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April 09, 2013 8:17 am

EDITORIAL: Child care programs at critical crossroads

Written by Tessa Schweigert

As the school year ends next month and kids begin summer vacation, two local child care organizations find themselves at a crossroads. One is ending; the other is seeking a way to continue.

Migrant Head Start will no longer operate in Powell, largely due to the decline of the migrant population in the area. However, child care is a need for those families who still come here for seasonal agricultural jobs. Absaroka Inc., the organization that operates Head Start programs in the area, is looking for alternative child care options for migrant families.

It’s important to note that Absaroka Head Start continues to operate the school-year program out of the Seventh Street building in Powell. As with many programs that receive federal funding, it’s uncertain how sequestration may impact its funding.

Meanwhile, a separate organization, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Park County, faces an uncertain future.

Though the clubs in Powell and Cody always have struggled to raise funds, the current financial situation is especially dire.

Next year, a federal grant that kept the local clubs afloat will end. Without another funding stream available, local leaders are seeking to raise at least $100,000 in the coming year.

“If this challenge fails, with deep regret, we will be faced with closing one or both of our clubs,” read a recent letter from the clubs’ board of directors and staff.

It’s a difficult fundraising challenge, but not an impossible one.

We’re glad to see the organization taking necessary steps to raise more revenue from within the club. Beginning June 1, the clubs’ monthly membership dues increase to $30 per child. Currently, the club charges only $10 per child each month.

Since the clubs serve many low-income families in the area, we understand the reluctance to increase fees until now. We know this decision comes with heartache and regret, but at this point, the fee increase is necessary.

Last year, membership fees brought in just $18,876, which is less than 5 percent of the clubs’ $435,866 in expenses. That means roughly 95 percent of the budget came from other sources. It’s remarkable that leaders found ways to keep fee increases at bay for so long.

Fees alone will never cover the entire operating budget — no one expects that. However, even at $30 per month, the Boys and Girls Clubs in Powell and Cody remain an affordable option for after-school and summer child care.

“We also understand that families are facing hard times, too, and do not want to put more stress on parents,” leaders wrote. “However, if we close our doors, parents will be forced to seek alternative child care and face paying much higher costs.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs remain invaluable for families in Park County, serving around 600 kids in the area. In addition to child care, the clubs provide help with homework, snacks, crafts, fun activities and positive role models for many of our youngest residents.

Over the coming year, consider donating to the clubs, even if you don’t have children who attend the Boys and Girls Clubs. They provide a vital service Park County can’t afford to lose.

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