ARCHing support for day care health, safety, learning

Nothing beats a heartwarming, welcoming smile from a bubbly lady at a brightly painted and designed day care than a tight hug at the knees by a little boy whose grandmother is living out her dreams every day she walks downstairs to the main level of her home.

Some time ago, Kim Taylor of St. Louis purchased a charming, older two-story home in North St. Louis to turn it into “Auntie’s House,” a child care center for toddlers and youngsters whose parents work days and evenings.

A letter from the City about a grant program at Area Resources for Community and Human Services, known as ARCHS, is really what began to shape Auntie’s House into an updated, safe and healthy learning environment for children as well as one woman’s business success story.

“I called ARCHS, and they said, ‘we have already served that grant for this year, but give us your name and we’ll call you next year.’ And the next year, they called me,” Clay said.

Since 2008, Clay and Auntie’s House have participated in Educare, which provides training, technical assistance and resources to unregulated home child care providers, who receive personalized education, resources and on-site consultations by ARCHS staff on how to improve the quality of their child care programs.

“One of the main misconceptions that we try to clear up is that we are not an oversight organization,” said Amber Stevenson, vice president of pre-kindergarten partnerships at ARCHS. “They’ll have a little bit of extra money for purchases. If they don’t have the right crib, they can use that to purchase a crib or if they don’t have educational toys or books, they can use that money to purchase that.”

They also offer sage advice. For example, not putting babies to sleep on their tummies is a widely-accepted safety practice. Stevenson said they have been working with providers to include valuable tummy time during waking hours as to not delay the babies’ development.

“They were so afraid when they stuck them on their bellies that they would die, even if they were awake,” Stevenson said. “For the healthy muscle development for the children, we let them know that it is okay to do tummy time; that it is important to build up the core strength and the arm strength and the head strength.”

ARCHS staff conducts in-home safety checks in all rooms where the children have access, which includes vehicle safety. If they find a problem, the help you fix it.

“Everything in here is new, thanks to ARCHS. New baby beds, new chairs – everything in here, ARCHS provided the funds, helping me to put new floors in; getting new windows in my home because my windows were full of lead,” Clay giggled as she scooted toward the back door for the exterior grand tour.

“They helped us do our back porch. They helped us put a new fence across here,” Clay pointed. They also helped with the front porch.

“This is our playground –THANKS TO ARCHS,” she said with a laugh.

If excitement were explosive, Clay seemed as though she was headed for internal combustion. Although some things seem too good to be true, it really is in this case, and Kim Clay could not keep it to herself.

Outside, Auntie’s House has wood chips in the play area and a new driveway. And coming soon, there will be new outdoor toys for the kids to enjoy.

“I am just so shocked because you would think that when you give grants, you have to go through all this different stuff – hard stuff – classes, and it was nothing like that,” Clay said. “All the instructors were beautiful – they just take you in like you are family and hug you and say, ‘come on Kim, we’re going to do this all together – everybody.’”

And best of all – the upgrades and renovations were all free of charge, a life-saver for a small business operator and a guardian angel for the childen.

“With the funds from ARCHS, they really helped me out,” Clay said. “And then, the classes they sent me to – the business classes, the Strength through Families, the Educare classes – all that helped.”

ARCHS and Clay are in close contact on a regular basis (as they are with all Educare providers) to share, problem-solve and make sure children’s needs are met. ARCHS staff said Clay’s willingness to learn is what has made this home care partnership so successful.

Because it is a state-funded program through the Department of Social Services Children’s Division, Educare is open to registered/unlicensed child care providers who have signed up with the state to provide care to four or fewer children.

“That’s what is so fantastic about the Educare program. We take people who are not licensed,” Stevenson said. “You have to be just a registered home provider.”

Many of the Educare providers are grandmothers who are taking care of grandchildren.

“Instead of it being a financial burden on the grandmother, if the mother is receiving Social Security, then the grandmother can get paid to take care of the children through the subsidy payment, Stevenson said. “It helps make sure she has enough money to take care of the nutritional needs of the child. They can qualify through the Child and Adult Care Food Program and we can help them if they are not already registered with that, we can help them get into there.

“All those things that are normally you would just be home doing it because you are trying to help out a family member, now they can actually get paid to do that.”

ARCHS selects service providers (like child care centers, after school programs and adult education) with the best skills and talents to nurture and advance the children’s potential through social responsibility, collaboration, on-going education and accountability.

Clay and other Educare providers learn about healthy meal preparation. They connected Auntie’s House with a program get healthy food for the children through the Child Day Care Association’s program, Farm to Child Care.

“It partnered with farmers’ markets across the St. Louis area and found out which vegetables and fruits are in season during what periods of time and then they created a nutritional schedule for a snack, a breakfast and a lunch based on the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, Stevenson said. “By directing child care providers to go directly to the farmer’s markets, they are not having to pay those big superstore prices. They are able to get them at the discount prices.”

In this program, child care providers receive a calendar with recipes and where to get the ingredients for breakfast, lunch and snacks.

After 15 years of being a child care provider ARCHS helped Clay became a licensed day care operator.

“They made my dream come true,” Clay said. “Something that I have been wanting my whole entire life; everything I want, everything I have ever wanted – now I am there.”

In addition to Educare, pre-kindergarten programs ARCHS helps providers focus on completing licensure; and works with selected centers who want to achieve accreditation.

They are working with 80 child care providers now with plans to pick up almost as many over the coming year as ARCHS has expanded its service area into six counties to increase kindergarten readiness. The ARCHS service area now includes St. Louis City and County, St. Charles, Franklin, Jefferson, Warren and Washington counties.

For more information About ARCHS programs, go to stlarchs.org or call 314-534-0022.