Editor's note:This is the 12th in a series of stories featuring the 21 agencies that will receive funding from the Finney County United Way in 2013.
BY DEREK THOMPSON
The Community Day Care Center in Garden City does more than just keep kids occupied during the day. The center exposes kids to a variety of life skills to give them a leg up on their education.
That's according to Jessica Bird, director of the day care, which is slated to receive $25,000 from the Finney County United Way, an increase from the 2012 allotment of $21,000, Bird said. The funds are used to serve healthy lunches to the students enrolled there.
"We used the United Way funding to be able to serve fresh fruits and vegetables — healthier lunches, healthier snacks, breakfast. All of our meals, we try to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into that," Bird said. "As you know, that's a lot more pricey when you're doing that."
While Bird and the staff of 26 teachers at the day care put an emphasis on produce, they're also growing their own goods.
This past summer, the day care began growing a learning garden, a 12 to 13 plot garden. Bird said the garden gives students a chance to help grow produce that is incorporated into meals and snacks.
The garden helps expose kids at an early age — the day care takes children ages 2 weeks to 5 years old — to a variety of foods. Tomatoes, zucchini, squash and pumpkins are grown at the garden, which staff are planning to expand in the future.
"Zucchini bread has become one of their favorite snacks," the director said.
Bird said that without the United Way funding, parents would see more picky eaters. The exposure to different foods helps combat other health concerns, such as obesity, she said, adding that kids are more willing to try new foods at home because they do at day care.
Another facet that is important to the goal of the day care center is instilling social skills at an early age. The meals are "family-style meals," where kids sit at a table with their teacher.
"We definitely teach social skills through mealtime," Bird said.
And the center currently is teaching those skills to as many kids as possible. With 94 students enrolled, the center is maxed out, Bird said. The facility is licensed to care for 99 kids, however, that number isn't realistic, Bird said. They currently are not taking any new enrollments.
"I would really say we've been at capacity since April," Bird said.
The center serves youth from parents from all walks of life.
"We have single parents, we have families where both parents are working, we have families where maybe one parent's working. ... We have a good mix of ethnicities."
The center is open from 6:45 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Monday through Friday, and can be reached at 275-5757. The nonprofit agency charges $140 per week to care for 0- to 1-year-olds, $130 per week for 1- to 2-and-a-half-year-olds, and $120 per week for 2-and-a-half-year-olds and older.
The local United Way's annual campaign goal is $550,000 for 2013, the same as it has been for the last few years.
The 21 partner agencies for the 2013 campaign include: Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Catholic Social Service; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Program; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Community Day Care Center; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.