NEW ULM Three local businesses have been selected to participate in a new program for family child- care providers in Brown and Watonwan counties.
Through a competitive process, Samantha and Matthew Perala, Melanie Smith, and Mary Swanson, along with three other providers from St. James, were chosen for the Quality Family Child Care Business Improvement Project. They will work individually, as a group, and in collaboration with advisors to tackle their most critical business issues. Each provider will receive a grant of $1,500 to implement a business plan.
In 2012, Minnesota experienced a net loss of 355 child-care programs. As both entrepreneurs and educators, family child-care providers are faced with a unique and complex set of challenges when it comes to owning and operating their small business. In rural areas like Brown and Watonwan counties, where children are more likely to be poor than children in urban areas, sustaining a quality child-care business is especially demanding.
"I feel that increasing my enrollment every year and still being in business is an achievement," said Samantha Perala, who co-owns Stay and Play Daycare with her husband Matthew Perala in New Ulm, which is open 24/7.
All of the providers chosen for the Family Child Care Business Improvement Project are dedicated to quality and service to low-income or special needs children.
"I believe in going above and beyond what is expected of family child-care providers," said Mary Swanson, who owns the first 4-star Parent Aware rated family child-care program in Brown County. "I want to be able to use my experience and education to make the community aware of child care providers as not babysitters, but professionals."
In the majority of rural communities where there is little to no access to a child care center or preschool program, the bulk of school readiness is in the hands of family child care providers.
"It is very important to me that the children leave my care and enter school with the tools they need to transition smoothly," said Melanie Smith, a selected provider from New Ulm who has been in the business for more than 17 years.
Minnesota has made new and significant investments in quality early care and education. With scholarships for low-income children and the Parent Aware rating system rolling out to Brown and Watonwan counties this year and next, the Business Improvement Project ensures that those investments in children and the child care businesses tasked with serving them are sound.
Thanks to generous funding from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, all licensed family child care providers in Brown and Watonwan counties have had access to free training, consulting, and mentoring through a partnership between First Children's Finance and Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association.
"The Business Improvement Project we've partnered on with First Children's Finance has proven to be an extremely valuable resource to the region's child care providers," said Tim Penny, President of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. "We know their efforts will contribute to our goal of helping more children be ready to learn when they enter kindergarten."