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School's in! California parents create childcare co-op.

"I've lived here for more than 15 years," says Lina Hernandez, a mother of three. "Before the Knights Landing Children's Center, there was no reliable child care. My husband worked days and I had to work the swing shift."


Now, Lina has a day job as a case manager for the Yolo Family Resource Center. She's much happier not having to look for swing shift agricultural or retail work. And her four-year-old daughter, Esmeralda, is happier too.

Staff from the new California Center for Cooperative Development (CCCD), along with a parent organizing committee, spent a year planning for the parent-run cooperative's opening in January 2004. In 2007, the CCCD helped the co-op upgrade its financial accounting system. CCDC helped educate the members and the board of directors, which is comprised of parents. It also assisted with other structural supports that have helped strengthen the co-op, which offers families in the rural community of Knights Landing, Calif., a place for children age 2-6.

The co-op meets the unique needs of parents in a rural agricultural community. Many of them work in a nearby cannery or in the fields. Since the center is open year-round from seven a.m. in the morning to five p.m., parents have time to drive back and forth to their jobs and still put in an eight-hour shift, something that was impossible when the sole preschool in town offered only a three-hour program.

USDA Rural Development recently provided a $224,000 grant to the Yolo Mutual Housing Association (YMHA), which is the new Center for Cooperatives in California. YMHA works with cooperatives on various projects throughout the state, including providing technical assistance and support to Knights Landing Cooperative Children's Center.

Parents make the difference

The operation of Knights Landing Children's Center (KLCC) is designed to meet the needs of its members--and to adjust when those needs change. Parents make decisions and solve problems on such issues as tuition, staff hiring, hours of operation and budget. The parent-elected board of directors meets monthly, and membership meetings are also held regularly.

"It's the parents working together who have kept the center open," says Clare Purtill, a board member and a teacher at KLCC. "Without the parents' help, we wouldn't be able to offer three different programs: four-hour, six-hour and full day."

A sliding-scale fee has also been established, with the help of a combination of grants, donations and volunteer parents doing jobs that would otherwise require paid help. Since the highest fee is less than the lowest fee typically charged by local child care providers, KLCC is able to serve more families living on low incomes.

For their part, each member family is required to participate five hours a month, either helping in the classroom or performing functions such as bookkeeping or purchasing supplies. Parents are expected to attend the annual membership meeting and to participate in a minimum of six education classes that focus on parenting issues.

"It is humbling to work with the parents and staff of Knights Landing Children's Center," says Kim Coontz, a nationally known co-op development specialist who now serves as executive director of the new California Center for Cooperative Development. "The parents and the dedicated staff of KLCC put a high value on their cooperative and have been true partners in identifying the education and training needs that would best help it succeed. They have worked hard to implement the changes needed to make their cooperative strong."

Facing the future, together

This solid base of support will be tested in the coming months. Grafton Elementary School has notified the coop that next fall, it will need the classroom currently used by KLCC. The school has offered the cooperative another temporary classroom until the following fall, but then the co-op will need to have a more permanent location. Some of the help provided by the cooperative development center has included identifying potential funding sources for this move and developing a brochure and templates for other types of information, which are useful for fundraising.

Gricelda Cardenas, a board member and the co-op's treasurer, appreciates all that KLCC has to offer. "I receive parenting and educational support from the staff and the other parents. Parents are encouraged to participate in their children's education, both at the center and at home, and are given the necessary tools to help their children learn."

Esmeralda Hernandez, Lina's four-year-old daughter, likes getting to play with all her friends at school. "Teacher Clare takes us to the library every week," she says. "One time we went to the clinic and learned how to listen to a heartbeat from the doctor."

Asked what she likes best about her school, she says, "I like everything." And she likes having both of her parents at home at the end of the school day, too.

For more information on the California Center for Cooperative Development, visit:

Editor's note: Bowden is a freelance writer, writing teacher and writing coach. She has written for more than 100 publications.
COPYRIGHT 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Business - Cooperative Service
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Author:Bowden, Melanie
Publication:Rural Cooperatives
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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