The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 8, 2013

Plan to close longtime day care leaves Neosho parents scrambling

NEOSHO, Mo. — Parents of the 100 children enrolled at Neosho’s Abundant Life Early Learning Center are scrambling to find alternative child care. The day care, operated for the past 30 years by Abundant Life Church, is closing Jan. 10.

About 15 employees also are seeking new jobs.

Cassie Charlton’s 6-year-old son, Cooper, goes to Abundant Life before and after school. She said she was preparing to enter another son, Coleman, into the day care when he turns 2 in February. As of last week, she had not found another child care option.

Charlton, 30, said she went to Abundant Life as a child.

“I’ve called around, but there’s not one that I can afford,” Charlton said. “The other ones are full.”

She said Abundant Life has been affordable, and she had to pay only for the days her son attended.

“It’s amazing,” Charlton said of the price. “I only work four days a week.”

Charlton said she thinks the church board has made the wrong decision.

“It’s very sad,” she added. “Why do they have to run these kids out?”

Budget, space issues

Ken Robinson, lead pastor of the church, said it was a decision of the church board.

“My heart still aches over it,” he said. “It really does. We’ve been praying for the employees, and we’ve been praying for the parents that they can make the transition.”

Robinson said many factors contributed to the decision.

“We’ve been affected by the economy just like everybody else has,” he said.

He said the day care nearly closed six years ago when two or three new day cares opened up in town, the Freeman Family YMCA also began offering child care and the school district began offering a preschool program. He said that in one month, the day care operated at a $25,000 loss.

“We lost a lot of children,” Robinson said. “We had a huge financial impact then.”

He said the church kept the day care in operation by budget-tightening measures and by subsidizing it from the church’s general operating fund.

“Ours has never made a lot of money,” he said. He added that 90 percent of the day care budget goes to pay the salaries of its employees, most of whom make minimum wage.

He said another factor in the decision is that the day care takes up a third of the church’s building space. The church’s other ministries are growing but have nowhere to go.

“We were needing the space the day care occupies if our ministries are to grow,” Robinson said.

He said only a few parents pay the full fee, with others paying the rate established by Medicaid or through the foster care system.

“Our church never intended it would be so dependent on state funds to stay open,” he said. “We’re state-approved, but not state-licensed. We wanted that autonomy.”

A letter announcing the closing was sent to parents on Nov. 21. Robinson said the board was trying to give parents time to find alternative child care options.

“We knew there’s never a good time to do it,” he said.

Sara Price, director of Abundant Life Early Learning Center, said she also does not like the decision. She said the day care has averaged between 70 and 75 children a day. More than 100 are enrolled, but not all attend each day.

Price said the cost is $16.50 a day for 2-year-olds, $15 a day for children ages 3 to 5, and $8.50 per day for school-age children who attend before and after school.

She said she and the 14 other employees would seek new employment.

“We’re all just trying to figure it out,” Price said. “For us who work here, it’s been our ministry in our hearts to work with the children.”

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