WATERLOO — The governor and lieutenant governor toured one of Waterloo’s newest child care centers, looking for ways to help expand child care access across the state as a new task force studies the issue.
Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg stopped at It Takes a Village in Waterloo, which has capacity for 105 children with 24-hour care.
The center partners with Friendship Village, a long-term care center across the street, for everything from its meals to fundraising for its outdoor playground equipment, It Takes a Village co-director Susie Schaefer said during the tour.
“Good morning!” Schaefer greeted a classroom of children during Friday morning’s tour. “Governor Reynolds wanted to come and see what our day care is like.”
“You’re pretty lucky,” Reynolds told the kids. “This is really nice.”
Before COVID-19 suspended the visits, Friendship Village residents would stop over for activities with the children, a unique element of the center.
“A big part of our day care is our residents,” Schaefer said. “It has been a real experience for all of us to be able to share that.”
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But it was business partnerships that helped get it off the ground, Friendship Village President and CEO Lisa Gates noted.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of public support as we built this,” Gates said, noting foundations that chipped in.
“I think that’s the key component that we’re picking up,” Reynolds said. “It really does take a lot of community coming together.”
The center, built in 2019, is also one of the success stories for the Black Hawk County Child Care Coalition, tasked with solving the issue of too few child care providers in the Cedar Valley.
“Five years ago, six years ago, we really saw a struggle within this community for funding for our child care programs,” said Mary Janssen, children and family services director at Child Care Resource and Referral of Northeast Iowa. “So we flipped it to be a community conversation.”
That conversation, stakeholders told Reynolds after the tour, led to the coalition, which began conversations with business owners on workforce recruitment and retention, and led to a greater awareness around the issue of scarce child care.
“It’s going to take leaders like that in other communities that say, ‘We’re going to do this,’” said Dan Levi, who helps lead the coalition. “This is a benefit.”
Reynolds has been touring child care centers around the state in recent days in connection with her new child care task force and $13 million in new state funding to assist local child care expansion projects. She said the center, and the partnerships that led to it, could be a model for others like it across Iowa.
“You need to find those leaders in each community that really want to embrace this and really want to make it work, and then get the right people around the table to continue to move it forward,” she said. “And then I want (the state) to be a partner to that. I want to figure out where can we be helpful, where can we provide you the information that you need to keep moving forward and to make that vision a reality.”