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Start-up costs hinder possible remedy for Macon child care shortage

 fr childcareA couple in Macon County is trying to raise $2 million to open a childcare center that would serve 120 children.

Susie and Chuck Williams want to renovate a 10,000-square-foot building, the former home of Franklin Orthopedic Specialists in Franklin, for the childcare center. They’ve yet to buy the building, however, and are in the beginning stages of raising the necessary funds. They have started a nonprofit for fundraising purposes.

“We started four years ago trying to find a building,” Susie Williams said. “We couldn’t find anything that would pass until we found this. Now, we are looking for angels.”

Williams is the former owner of a daycare and she’s been a foster parent for 39 years. Her husband retired from the vending business.

There’s no doubt that childcare is a critical issue in Macon County. In 2009, a county committee found that Macon County doesn’t have enough affordable, quality childcare, particularly for those under 2 years old.

The study, using 2008 population statistics, showed there were 1,147 children under 2 years old in Macon County. Working from the assumption that half were cared for by a stay-at-home parent or other family member, the study pegged demand in the county at 574 slots for infants and toddlers.

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The capacity at that time fell well short — there were only 210 spaces available, the majority of which are reserved only for low-income families. That means more than 300 families are stuck on waiting lists or are sending their children to unlicensed providers.

Tara Raby, a single mother of two children who works in the county tax office, struggled to find childcare for her now 2-year-old son, Thomas. She finally found an open slot at Trimont Christian Academy.

“It was a challenge to get him in,” Raby said. “There is a long waiting list, and there’s not a lot of opportunities here.”

Tommy Jenkins, director of the Macon County Economic Development Commission, said having adequate childcare is important when it comes to recruiting and retaining businesses. He said he hopes the Williams can successfully open a childcare center.

“Our workforce could use all the help they could get,” Jenkins said. “Quality childcare should be part of any community’s economic development plan.”

The Williams’ childcare center would serve children ages six weeks to six years.

“The study brought out what the needs are for the county,” Susie Williams said, adding she and her husband want to do much more than just open a basic childcare.

“It’s going to be a phenomenal operation, a true learning center,” she said.

The couple envision a 24-hour childcare center that would feature art and music teachers and other learning opportunities for the children going there. Children with special needs would have trained employees to work with them, and therapy also would be available. Williams said the center would have a director and would employee 35 people per each of the three shifts it would be open.

Williams admitted the expense would be “tremendous.” And despite hoping to be open in the next year, “that’s contingent on finding the money,” she said.

Commissioner Ronnie Beale, who played a key role in initiating the childcare study, wished the Williams well but said other efforts to remedy the county’s childcare problem would continue.

“If we can help them in any way, we will,” Beale said. “But, we’re continuing to look also at what we can do to improve the situation, particularly for infant care.”

The start-up costs, especially outfitting a building to house a child care center, seem to pose the biggest obstacle, and that’s where the county could potentially help, Beale said.

“I don’t think the county will ever get in the childcare business, but we can certainly be a partner,” Beale said. “What my vision would be is we would help with the property and bricks and mortar then put it under the umbrella of Macon Program for Progress.”

Macon Program for Progress, a private nonprofit community action agency, supplies the bulk of the childcare slots in Macon County for children under the age of 2, but the federally funded programs are only available to families that meet federal poverty guidelines.


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