By Samantha Fabbri, West Branch community development fellow
West Branch was fortunate to be chosen as one of the communities to participate in Round 2 of Project Rising Tide (PRT). Early on, childcare, or rather the lack thereof, was identified as an action item that needed to be addressed in our community. Through technical assistance offered through PRT, a childcare study was conducted and revealed the need for childcare, especially from birth to 3 years of age.
A benefit of being a Rising Tide community was the addition of a community development fellow dedicated to the action items identified in the PRT process. While I have been involved in the community of West Branch for years as a small business owner, being the community development fellow allowed me the time to organize a great group of people to form a subcommittee devoted to finding a solution for the lack of childcare in West Branch.
What I realized early on was that the lack of available childcare is not unique to our community. It is not only a regional or state issue, but a national one. It seems the more rural the area, the bigger the challenge. One of the most important jobs in the world, caring for a child, is a grossly underpaid position. Also true in more rural areas, parents are challenged with the cost.
In West Branch, I am working on bringing some of the larger employers as partners in solving the child care challenge. Whether it be a financial commitment, or the use of a building, there are all kinds of ways that larger companies can assist in the process of establishing a childcare facility that will bring the cost per child down and help keep the business viable. Not only do the larger industries—like hospitals for example—have a need for childcare for their employees, but they also have a desire to help the community.
One option we are exploring is when employers commit to help sustain a childcare facility, their employees get first option of available childcare space. This is a big deal for both families with children and potential employees looking to relocate to the area. This fosters employee loyalty and retention while also providing a need for the community. In my role as the fellow, I am working on bringing the right people together in West Branch to discuss how to make this happen.
There is not a quick fix to the problem. I am still working to bring together all of the necessary components for success and it has definitely taken more time than I expected. However, relationships are being built, information is being shared, and the right people are being connected. Additionally, the city has great leadership and is committed to finding a solution.
In small rural communities like West Branch where there isn’t enough staff, it’s sometimes impossible to commit someone to a cause. In this instance, Project Rising Tide has made it possible to dedicate time for networking, researching, and bringing the right people together. I look forward to sharing more about our process and success in the future.
Our Community Development Fellowship placed fellows in Project Rising Tide communities to add capacity and help build strong planning, zoning and economic development plans. The fellows worked with a local steering committee and implement transformational projects within their community.