By Jackie Peters, CEO, Alexandria Area YMCA

This spring, the Alexandria Area YMCA invited local government officials, community leaders and business leaders to attend community listening sessions and community leadership forums to help us create our strategic roadmap, that led to one big question: How can we increase the number of families and children served by the YMCA as a response to community needs and demands?

These community conversations are supported by recent media coverage that has raised awareness about child care challenges and shortages in greater Minnesota. The governor’s office, local state representatives and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, are among many who have expressed these challenges, and share our concern. This month, the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union provided the platform for Kari Stattelman, business development specialist from First Children's Finance, to better inform our community of the child care challenges in Douglas County. Ms. Stattelman shared results from a local survey and engaged in open discussion about this important community issue.

There are more than 250 children in need of child care in Douglas County. The need for quality, affordable child care is real, but the challenge that child care providers face is sustainable operations: It’s important to pay child care staff competitive wages (not to mention attract and retain quality staff in a tight labor market), cover the cost of providing labor intensive infant/toddler child care, and perhaps most importantly, keep our rates affordable for the young, working-class families that need us the most.

The Alexandria area is truly an amazing place to live, work and play. It is home to many innovative businesses and industries, and at the same time, breathtakingly beautiful. The K-12 educational system is among the best in the state, our technical and community college boasts some of the highest retention, graduation and career placement rates in the state, and Alexandria is a leader in state-of-the-art health care options and home to quality senior living services and facilities.

Combined, these community attributes attract many prospective residents and employees. New and residing families continue to find creative solutions to the child care shortage like family planning around available openings, or dropping from full-time employment to part-time. These community workforce dilemmas lead to a cycle of community and family-related issues, which develop into larger business and economic issues.

In response to this local need for quality, affordable child care, in June 2018, the YMCA opened YMCA Child Care at Knute Nelson in partnership with Knute Nelson, along with local foundation and generous business and community support. After opening our second site, more than 50 children still remain on our waiting list.

Our YMCA operates the largest child care center in West Central Minnesota, serving more than 180 children from 19 zip codes, and employing more than 60 professional staff, teachers and aides at our two-site center. YMCA child care enables parents and family members to go to work knowing their children are in safe, stimulating environments. Young learners get stimulating preschool-like experiences, and caregivers receive support to replicate the experiences at home, ensuring that children start kindergarten ready to learn.

We believe that all kids deserve the opportunity to discover who they are and what they can achieve. As a non-profit, mission-based organization, the YMCA has a responsibility to be part of the solution to this challenge. While we are uniquely positioned to address this need, we won’t be able to do it alone.

How can our community’s businesses, nonprofit and service organizations, educational institutions, and families join together to find a solution to this problem and make Alexandria even greater? No matter who you are and no matter what your role is in this community, if you have ideas, we’d love to hear from you. Please email or call me at jbucholz@alexandriaymca.com or (320) 834-9622.