WOOD RIVER — Two years ago, Wood River residents were still cleaning up their houses after the floods of 2019.
Now, the community has a great new child development center, known as Stick Creek Kids. The center, which opens Monday, expects to welcome 30 kids by the end of the week.
More than 100 people, including Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, turned out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday on a sunny day in Wood River.
The child care and education center, three years in the making, was the result of a strong community effort, led by the Stick Creek Kids core leadership team.
“We’re a mighty force,” Elizabeth Troyer-Miller said in opening remarks Saturday. She is the chairperson of the Stick Creek Kids board of directors.
The center is in the former home of the Good Samaritan Society nursing home. Having evacuated its residents, the Good Samaritan Society decided not to reopen after the 2019 flooding.
The building was purchased by Wood River Vision 2020, a nonprofit organization. The Stick Creek administration is an entity under that board.
How much support did the $2 million project receive? The program for Saturday’s event listed 119 financial contributors. As part of the effort, the community built a $500,000 endowment.
Troyer-Miller said more than 10,000 hours of time went into the center, much of it by Sara Arnett, a member of the Stick Creek Kids leadership team.
“The people of Wood River stepped up,” Foley said.
He said the Wood River effort could serve as a model for the rest of the state.
As a member of an organization with other lieutenant governors, Foley said, he has learned a lot about early childhood education.
The center, he said, will sustain Wood River into the future.
Foley complimented the “visionary” leaders of the project.
“You are determined to keep Wood River growing as a vibrant community,” he said.
Rather than being “just a day care,” Troyer-Miller said, Stick Creek Kids will provide quality experiences for children. It will give opportunities for kids to grow and learn and for families to thrive.
It’s “amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish,” said Wood River Mayor Greg Cramer.
Eight years ago, the 2020 Wood River Vision board was formed. The top three needs identified by that board have been met, Cramer said. The community has a fine aquatic center, a child development center and progress is being made in housing.
Wood River was sad to see the Good Samaritan nursing home leave town, he said. But seeing everybody come together to create Stick Creek Kids “makes me proud.”
Marti Beard, associate vice president of early childhood programs for the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, gave her congratulations “to this amazing community.”
Beard said child care is “not just a mom issue.” A child care and education center allows a community to grow and thrive.
Child care, she said, is about “so much more than babysitting and day care.” When young children benefit from early childhood programs, “incredible things will happen.” Educating and developing those children will change the trajectory of their lives.
Speakers said the Wood River facility will serve all families.
As a licensed day care provider, subsidies from the state can be provided to families. Stick Creek Kids will also offers grants and scholarships. Those efforts will make the center affordable for families who can’t quite foot the bill on their own, board members said.
The child care and education center is licensed to serve up to 80 children. Stick Creek director Kristine VanHoosen hopes to serve 50 or 60 kids in the fall, when school resumes.
In her remarks, Troyer-Miller said Stick Creek Kids was built in response to a “severe child care shortage” in Wood River.
Since the Wood River Vision 2020 board did its community needs survey, two providers have retired and another one closed, she said in an interview. Wood River now has one licensed in-home provider in town and a couple out in the country.
Rather than being in competition with area caregivers, Stick Creek Kids wants to complement them, Troyer-Miller said.
“Because each family has a different need,” and for some families, “that in-home experience is exactly what they need,” because it meets their children’s needs and their scheduling needs, she said.
“We want to work in tandem because we know a center’s not going to be good for everybody,” Troyer-Miller said said.
Recently, when Stick Creek staff members received CPR training, an in-home provider was welcome to join them.
When educational opportunities are given to Stick Creek teachers, other caregivers are certainly invited, Troyer-Miller said.
“So it’s really about collaboration to meet the needs of the community,” she said.
Three Wood River pastors blessed the building, staff and families. They were Matt Troyer-Miller of Wood River Mennonite Church, Craig Stephens of Grace Lutheran Church and Trudy Hanke of First United Methodist Church.
“Lord, we ask that this building be a place where love is received and given, learning happens, friendship blossoms, care is received, acceptance and safety are found,” Matt Troyer-Miller said in his prayer. “We ask that this space be one where dreams are nurtured, creativity is explored and imagination flourishes.”
In addition to Elizabeth Troyer-Miller and Arnett, the Stick Creek core leadership team consists of Chelsie Doane, Katie Gartner, Myriah Leisher, Lindsay Buechler and Mandi Morgan.
Among those recognized were three couples who led the building of the adjacent playground. They are Nick and Pat Lammers, Larry and Peg Krause and Kaye and Cathi Doane.
A quartet from Wood River High School performed the national anthem. The flag was raised by Jim Smith, Stan Bilslend and Dennis and Dan Wagoner of American Legion Post 314.