Niagara Gazette

January 16, 2013

Closing the gap

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — St. James United Methodist Church is coming to the rescue of plenty of teen mothers still in school in Niagara Falls.

Located at 4661 Porter Road, the church is preparing areas within its spacious building to serve as a nursery and day care center for the community as a whole. But a partnership with the high school – right next door – is set to bring in many of the first participants.

At least that's the hope of Childcare Director Rose Lynch, who has been working to ensure Little Wonders Early Childhood Development Center's successful February opening.

"Because of its close proximity to the high school, the church has been trying to reach out and help the community," Lynch, hired by the church to run the program, said. "We're working with the high school on a number of components. We're working with the youth services students through (Orleans/Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services) and it's our hope to close the gap for young parents searching for child care services while they're at school."

How desperate is Niagara Falls for reliable child care? Lynch said since the high school shut down its day care services for teen parents two years ago, three other area centers have been closed down, leaving a large hole in the community.

The center will provide those parents the opportunity to drop off their children before heading to the school for the day. And it allows those parents to take comfort in knowing their children are close by.

Once it's opened, getting children to the center – and their parents to school – will be easier as well, when the district creates a cut-through sidewalk from the north parking lot of the school to a new, side door of the church, which will serve as the main child care entrance.

"The school district is putting in an adjoining sidewalk," Lynch said. "The students can come over here during the day and won't have to go out to the street and walk around to get here. The chain link fence is coming down and there'll be a sidewalk from the parking lot to the door."

The partnership began with the curiosity of the church's pastor, the Rev. Daryl Bennett. When she came to the church three years ago, she said, the parish was interested in exploring ways to engage the school as a means of meeting its mission to spread God's love throughout the city.

But none of the ideas really stuck. Until the school informed her of the child care shortage they'd be creating with the closing of its in-school center.

So they began renovating the space in the church, including updating the sprinkler system in the entire building. They are in the process of creating a toddler and infant room. In all, they estimate the project to be $115,000 in work.

But then thoughts shifted to doing more with it. After a conversation with the district, they decided to do more, Bennett said.

"I spoke with (Assistant Superintendent) Mark Laurrie about what we could do," she said. "We talked about how we could provide child care and about how it could be more than that. We talked about how it could make a difference to more than just those few students."

Little Wonders became a full-service child care center for children ranging from 6 months to 12 years old, with before- and after-school services available for those students whose parents aren't able to see to their safety for whatever reason.

And with it, students from the high school without children could play a big role in the success of the program just as much, Lynch added.

"The other component is we'll have a cross-age mentoring program," Lynch said. "The high school has students who are looking to go into teaching. We'll provide a place for them to come here and work with some of the younger students and provide homework help. We look at that as a unique, fantastic opportunity for all of the kids in this district to benefit."

Most of the varied options for child care at the church will cost between $170 and $190 per week. There's also a $25 registration fee for each child. For more information on the various services, go online to www.stjamesniagara.org or call 297-6421.