Editor's note: This is the 16th in a series of stories featuring the 25 agencies that will be receiving money from the Finney County United Way in 2014.



Tiffany Leonard, who has been a teacher at Community Daycare Center for four years, said the best thing about her job is being around the kids.

"It's really fun watching them grow and develop," Leonard said.

Community Daycare Center, 505 College Drive, is a nonprofit organization, governed by a board of directors, that provides childcare and educational experiences to children from 2 weeks old up to 5 years old. They are a licensed daycare and participate in the Kansas Quality Rating and Improvement System. Hours of operation are 6:45 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Monday through Friday.

They are also one of 25 agencies receiving United Way funding.

On its website, the organization's stated goal is to assist families in developing well-rounded children and preparing children for kindergarten academically and socially. Essential educational skills are introduced using developmentally appropriate childcare curriculum, and social-emotional skills are developed using the 2nd Step Curriculum.

Leonard works with children ages 1 to 2 1/2. A typical day includes play time, working with shapes or the alphabet, and singing songs and reading books.

"Even though they're really little, and they don't quite understand, we get them familiar with those things. They get excited when we bring them out," she said.

Jessica Bird, executive director, said Community Daycare Center receives $25,000 in United Way funding, which assists with providing breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack each day, though it doesn't cover the entire cost of meals.

"We write the grant for fresh fruits and vegetables, healthier meals," Bird said.

United Way funding is close to 10 percent of the agency's total budget. Bird said the money is needed.

"It is very important. Without it, honestly, we would serve a lot of processed foods, and that's not good for kids," Bird said. "And the quality of the foods we serve wouldn't be as good. For example, if we serve chicken strips, we make the chicken strips. They're homemade, not something we take out of a box and throw in the oven."

Community Daycare participates in the Child and Adult Care Food Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nutritious, family-style meals are prepared daily to teach and encourage healthy lifestyles.

Bird said United Way's contribution allows the center to bring in fresh fruits and vegetables. She said the goal is to expose children to fresh fruit and vegetables early so maybe they will develop healthy eating choices at an early age.

"When you have kids in your care for two of their three major meals per day, it's really important that we make sure they're healthy and getting the vitamins and nutrients they need. Parents are busy, so that third meal may have to be something quick and easy. We try to do as much home cooking as we can," Bird said. "We also do some taste testing. We'll give them something they might not experience in their daily life at home and see how they respond to it. The reward is when they ask for it again."

Leonard said it's obvious the kids enjoy the fresh food.

"I think they love the fresh fruit. Because some will take it, and before we can even get around to everybody, it's already gone. They'll just devour it," she said. "Some are picky about vegetables, but what kids aren't?"

In June, Community Daycare Center added a second site at 2620 N. Eighth St.

Bird said the College Drive location is full, and the Eighth Street center is near capacity already. Community Daycare is licensed for 97 kids at College Drive, and licensed for 64 at Eighth Street. Combined, there are 37 staff for the two sites.

"I think a lot of home daycares have closed. Their regulations got much more strict the past couple of years," Bird said, explaining the increase in demand. "And a lot of home daycares prefer to not take infants because they have to have more staff."

The United Way's annual campaign goal is $560,000, $10,000 more than last year. The 25 partner agencies for the 2014 campaign include:

Miles of Smiles; Real Men, Real Leaders; Russell Child Development Center; Santa Fe Trail Council Boy Scouts of America; Seeds of Hope Jail Ministry; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; Building Blocks Project through Russell Child Development Center; Spirit of the Plains CASA, Inc.; St. Catherine Hospital 's Lactation Program; United Methodist Mexican American Ministries; The Salvation Army; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Garden City Recreation Commission Playground Program; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney & Kearny Counties; Catholic Social Service; Circles of Hope; Community Day Care Center, Inc.; Family Crisis Services, Inc.; Finney County Retired Senior Volunteer Program; Garden City Area Chapter of the American Red Cross; Garden City Family YMCA; Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland; Habitat for Humanity; Kansas Children's Service League; Meals on Wheels.