Business has been booming for Little Lakers Child Care Center in Lake Crystal since it opened last year, alleviating the initial worries of those who desperately need it in the area.
“You want them to succeed and when we came on, I think they had seven, eight or 10 slots still available. I’m like, ‘Gosh, I hope they can make it work,’ because I don’t know what else we would do,” said Derek Nelson, father of 9 ½-month-old Presley.
With a waitlist extending until August of next year, Derek and his wife, Lindsay, are thankful they were one of the first families to sign their daughter up for care.
The Nelsons work full-time jobs and when Lindsay became pregnant, being a stay-at-home parent wasn’t something either of them considered.
“Lindsay works in Mankato. I’m fortunate to have a little bit of a hybrid work-from-home, but I also work on the road at times,” Derek said. “But we really wanted that child development that a day care can offer.”
After learning about the center opening up on social media, the Nelsons decided to give it a shot.
The natural uneasy feelings that creep up when a parent drops off their child with a stranger quickly dissolved for the Nelsons after seeing how cared for their daughter is at the center.
“It seems like we’re dropping them off with good friends and not just a day care provider,” Derek said.
Lindsay agreed, adding that Presley is happy to be there and even wiggles her way out of her mother’s arms to greet her friends when they arrive.
“In the mornings, she gets so excited to get to day care that she gets antsy to get going,” Derek said.
Other families have expressed the same gratitude for Little Lakers to Director Annika Morton.
“It’s going very, very good,” she said about their first year. “We’re at our full capacity of 91 since getting more space in our preschool room. We have 16 infants that we can have, 28 toddlers and 47 preschoolers.”
Little Lakers came to be years after a board formed to create a nonprofit center in response to a study finding there was a day care shortage in the community.
The board spent months searching for an affordable site.
When the Crystal Valley Cooperative moved its office headquarters to Mankato, its main building became available.
To help purchase the building, the USDA gave them a grant of $108,000 and $617,000 from their Community Facilities Program.
At the same time, First Children’s Finance was conducting a feasibility study.
“It took a lot of partners to make this happen,” said Colleen Landkamer, state director of USDA, rural development. “But I don’t think there’s any doubt that child care services are an essential need in every community. Little Lakers is helping fill that gap for working families to have quality child care in their area.”
A few weeks ago, Landkamer and Mark Hanson of First Children’s Finance took a tour of the center and were thrilled to see how well it’s doing.
“We saw the open space with so many child care amenities both inside and out. Seeing the impact it has on the children is amazing,” Landkamer said. “Child care facilities are one of the things that we know are really important because you need jobs in your community, but people can’t go to their jobs if they don’t have a safe and affordable place for their children to be while they’re at work. So we’re excited about this child care facility because it will make a difference for so many families in the community.”
The Nelsons are a prime example.
“It’s just so important. Even though we’re close to Mankato, a lot of families don’t have that opportunity. If you live in or work in a small town where you don’t have that flexibility, I can’t imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have a day care option,” Derek said.
“Even when we were looking in Mankato before, the availability was so sparse. We called one and they said it would be a year down the road before they could take anyone in. Having Little Lakers is such a relief.”