Choosing the right day care or preschool for infants and small children is a challenge for all working moms and dads. But for parents of special needs children or parents whose income cannot support the $140 per week average cost of most child care centers, the challenge can be overwhelming.
MTSU football players aided Project HELP with its pumpkin carving Oct. 27, 2011, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP/D. Gardonia)
That’s where two United Way agencies step in to help.
Wee Care Day Care center and Project HELP have been serving parents of Rutherford County since the 1980s.
At Wee Care, 35 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years are cared for in a clean, safe, early learning environment. The cost to parents is based on a sliding income scale. The minimum, five-day weekly rate is $85.
“The prices are very reasonable and really help us out a lot,” said Angie Ezell, who sends her daughter, Janae, to Wee Care.
Project HELP provides an early intervention program for 118 special needs children and a preschool for 33 children who are developing at age level. The typically developing children serve as role models for the children with special needs.
There’s no fee to parents for enrollment of special needs children. Parents of children who are typical developers pay a rate comparable to other preschool programs.
The real advantage of Project Help, said Marie Patterson, the mother of a special needs child, is having a program where the teachers are equipped to handle special needs and the peers are developing at different levels.
Patterson had tried putting her special needs daughter, Isabella, in a traditional mother’s day out program but the arrangement proved unworkable.
“Everybody could do a particular task except Isabella,” Patterson said. “That made it all the more difficult for her.”
At Project HELP, Isabella fit right in. Patterson was so impressed with the program she enrolled her second daughter, Ashton, who is developing typically, to serve as a role model. And she has two additional children on the waiting list.
Wee Care operates on a yearly budget of $80,000.
About 34 percent of their funding comes from United Way. Project Help’s annual budget is $635,000, of which 15 percent comes from United Way.
Directors of both agencies laud their relationship with United Way.
“We wouldn’t be able to pay some of our salaries and benefits if it weren’t for United Way,” said Susan Waldrop, director of Project HELP.
“United Way has been a lifesaver,” said Katie Wilson, the board of directors chairwoman for Wee Care. “In addition to the money, United Way gives us the opportunity to look at our program to see how we can do things better.”
Both agencies also point to United Way’s networking opportunities as an important advantage.
“Working together allows us all to get the maximum use out of what we’ve got,” Waldrop said.
Recently, Project HELP was able to assist Wee Care in a very tangible way.
Project HELP was awarded grant money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and used it to upgrade its gymnastic equipment and tumble mats.
The equipment was still is good condition, Waldrop said, and Project HELP was thrilled with the opportunity to pass it on to Wee Care, an agency that operates on what Waldrop called, “a shoestring budget.”
The gift allowed Wee Care to try some different techniques for developing fine motor skills, she added.
“The tumbling mats are especially good for rainy days,” Wilson said.
Part of United Way’s mission is to bring together resources that help advance the common good of the community. In the case of Project Help and Wee Care, parents say their children have certainly benefited from the mission.