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Thrive Kids to Help Address Lack of Child Care in Wood River Valley
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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Tricia Swartling and Ana Villanueva stood over two infant changing beds as the morning light streamed through the window.

Just over a month from now the room these beds sit in and others that have been painted in calming colors of peach, pale lemon, robin egg blue and light green will be filled with the sound of babbling infants and 3- and 4-year-olds learning their ABCs and numbers.

The new nonprofit early learning center under the umbrella of The Advocates has been appropriately named Thrive Kids with the expectation that the center will help little ones get off to a good start, despite abuse in the family or the inability of their parents to afford the going rate for child care in the Wood River Valley.

“I can’t wait to get started,” said Villanueva, director of Youth Services for The Advocates.

The Advocates is in the middle of a $10.5 million capital campaign to create what is being called the Thrive Center for Safety and Healing—a 22,000-square-foot building that will include Thrive Kids and 20 apartments and a community center for families involved with The Advocates.

But the Advocates saw the chance to open the early learning center and day care ahead of that in an apartment building it owns near downtown Hailey. A $455,000 Idaho Workforce Development Council Childcare Expansion grant paid to refurbish the bottom floor of the apartment building and buy cribs, changing beds and other equipment.

The building will be converted to employee housing when Thrive Kids and transitional housing is moved to the new Thrive Center in Fall 2026. That move will double Thrive Kids’ space, enabling even more children to be served.

The current 1,100-square foot Thrive Kids facility set to open June 3 will contain room for 35 infants and toddlers ages 6 weeks to 5 years. The Advocates will be able to accept six infants from six weeks to 18 months, eight toddlers between that age and 3 years old and 22 children ages three to five.  

Six staff have been hired—at least half of them bilingual.

The facility will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

Thrive Kids is sorely needed, said Swartling, CEO of The Advocates. Thirty-six infants and toddlers are already on the wait list hoping to move into the facility in June. And the Wood River Early Learning Collaborative’s survey of Wood River Valley providers determined that, while providers are caring for 300 children, 90 are on waiting lists.

With the cost of living in Hailey 40 percent above that of the average Idaho town, most families here are unable to pay more than $30 a day per child, while providers are unable to sustain their businesses without charging at least $40 a day per child.

Half of The Advocates’ clients can afford only $20 a day or less.

“A lot of our clients don’t have access to child care. This will be for them, it will be for the children of our office workers and it also will be for the community,” said Swartling.

The Advocates plan to provide subsidized children care for low-income families utilizing Thrive Kids with the help of Idaho Child Care Provider subsidies. Additionally, The Advocates just asked Blaine County Commissioners for $25,000 of ARPA money to provide child care on a sliding scale basis. St. Luke’s Wood River also is providing operating support for three years, and The Advocates just received $20,000 from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation to support early learning initiative for children of survivors of abuse.

“Typically, organizations addressing domestic violence have early learning centers in house or stand-alone early learning centers,” Swartling said.

The opening of Thrive Kids comes as The Advocates see demand for their services ratcheting up.

For the first time in 30 years, The Advocates’ housing is full and people are having to be turned away. The Crisis Shelter has been full for nearly a year and, at last count, 15 people were waiting for transitional housing as they work towards their own place after spending time in The Advocates’ shelter.

Last year, with Crisis Shelter occupancy up by 88 percent, 53 percent more children stayed at The Advocates’ Crisis Shelter.  Last year 177 children and 105 adults escaping abuse situations received $105,000 in rent assistance to keep them safely housed. And 38 adults, 43 children and 26 pets used transitional housing.

Villanueva can’t wait to get started to ensure the children who pass through Thrive Kids learn the skills they need to start kindergarten.

“We’re going to be art- and play-based, using things found in nature to create art with so we don’t have to purchase a lot of art supplies,” she said. “And we want to focus on the children’s socio-emotional development, too. We want to help them be able to identify their emotions and know what to do about them.”

To learn more about Thrive Kids, contact Ana Villanueva via ana@theadvocatesorg.org or 208-788-4191

WHAT FAMILIES CAN AFFORD TO PAY FOR HIGH-QUALiTY DAYCARE OR PRESCHOOL IN BLAINE COUNTY:

Can’t afford—4.3 percent

Less than $20 per day—23.2 percent

$20-$30—28.9 percent

$30-$40—20.4 percent

$45 or more—23.2 percent

Source: -Wood River Valley Early Learning Collaborative’s 2023 Community Needs Assessment

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