Walking down the hallway of the center, filled with color and the voices of nearby children, James opens the door to the future infant room.
“The stairs will come out, and the ramp will come all the way up,” says James, holding open a second door from the room to the outside.
Although the room is currently empty and down to bare bones, in effect, it’s already full.
“Even when rumors started that we might be taking infants, phone calls came,” says James.
Given the extremely low number of spots locally available, she says that individuals largely rely on their own solutions to find care for their youngest children. That was even a lived reality for James after her daughter had no luck in placing her grandchild prior to his birth.
“My mom and I kept him, which they consider ‘underground,’” says James. “Because you aren’t regulated.”
Helping navigate challenges
In the southeast corner of Missouri, another proof point of the need for greater access is seen through Bell City, where licensed preschool options are limited.
“We were the only licensed facility within a 45-minute drive of the area,” says Jeremy Hahn, executive vice president of Life360 Community Services, of when the organization took over the operation a couple of years ago.
That reality is compounded by another problem facing the small Stoddard County community: A high rate of poverty, found across parts of the Ozarks, which can complicate families’ abilities to make payments for their children to attend.
Of the four-county region that Life360 serves from its Bell City location: “They are above the 90% free and reduced lunch rate. Ninety percent,” Hahn says, emphasizing the metric often used to illustrate the economic reality of particular areas.
Those needs will be served through $30,000 from the grant program, which will support increased staffing hours at the center and the addition of a family support coordinator.
“A family support coordinator is really a resource manager,” says Hahn of the coordinator role, which is standard at Life360’s preschools. “It can be as simple as when we receive donated products, they will package it and give it to families.”