By Starrla Cray
COKATO, MN Little Lambs Christian Day Care at Good Shepherd Evangelical Free Lutheran Church in Cokato has a deep commitment to serving families, but like many preschools and day cares, funding has been tough lately.
“We run about $1,000 short each month,” said Sarah Berg, Little Lamb’s former acting director.
Parents have decided to try to raise support from the community to make ends meet. The church board agreed to let the day care stay open until January, when finances will be reevaluated.
“If the money is there, we’ll stay open,” said head teacher Kelsey Anderson. “If it’s not, then we would be closing the end of January.”
There will be a parent meeting Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. at Good Shepherd Church.
“The parents want to discuss some fundraisers,” Anderson said.
Little Lambs has seen a sharp decrease in enrollment lately, Berg said.
“The end of last year to all of this year has been really low,” she said. “Other years, we’ve been filled.”
They can have up to 20 children at a time, and right now, there are only three to four children who stay for all-day day care.
Sixteen children are enrolled in the preschool program, which runs from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Day care is open all day, from 6:30 a.m. until 6 p.m., which generates more revenue for Little Lambs.
“That’s why we’re having a problem,” Anderson said.
“We have room for openings every day,” Berg added.
Many of the children who had been coming to daycare are now staying home or are being watched by grandparents and friends of the family, Berg said.
“A lot of it is probably economy,” she said. Some of the people have lost their jobs or have had hours cut, so they aren’t bringing their children to day care, she explained.
In September, Little Lambs raised its rates to $3.50 per child per hour. Before, preschool had been $3 per hour, and day care was $2.50 per hour.
Anderson said she is hopeful that Little Lambs will continue to operate.
“It’s a vital thing in this community,” she said. “Getting the word of God into the households of families is one of the goals of this daycare.”
That goal is being accomplished, she added. Many of the children share the Bible stories with their friends and family.
“It’s Biblically based,” she said. “Kids go home and talk about God.”
Little Lambs, which opened in 2000, is the only Christian day care in nearby, Anderson said.
“It is serving the community,” she said. As a Christian, Anderson said she places a high value on the Christian atmosphere of the day care.
“It’s worth all of what we’re going through,” she said.
Little Lambs also has many benefits for parents, Anderson said.
“It’s very family-oriented,” she said.
If a child is sick, for example, parents can simply call the day care to say their child is not coming in.
“If they call, they don’t have to pay anything for that day,” Anderson said. “Many other places will make you pay.” Even if the parents don’t call, they are only charged for half a day.
Little Lambs accepts children who are almost 3 years old through kindergarten. They’ve considered expanding to include more age groups, but it wasn’t feasible.
“It costs much more with all the set up,” Berg said.
If Little Lambs had very young children, the daycare would need cribs, changing stations, special bathrooms, and a separate play area. School age children would also need additional supplies, and they would need to hire another teacher.
Currently, Anderson is the head teacher, and there are a few helpers. Volunteers also provide assistance as needed.
The new acting director is Tony Onnen. Berg, the previous acting director, recently accepted a different job. She had worked at Little Lambs for about eight years.
Parents are hoping the daycare can stay open, and they are looking for creative ways to make that happen.
Either way, Anderson said she’s leaving it up to God.
“If it closes, at least we gave it a chance,” she said.
For more information about Little Lambs, call (320) 286-3412.