LIBERTY –– One of the big takeaways before and during the COVID-19 pandemic was the need for affordable child care options for working families, not just across the country, but right here in Sullivan County.
Healthy Kids Programs, the largest child care provider in New York State, with over 70 locations and growing, is looking to help fill the local void.
Healthy Kids had already recently established roots in the area, running the daycare at SUNY Sullivan and a preschool program at 21 Liberty Street in Monticello.
However, they will soon be adding child care centers in Liberty (68 State Street), Monticello (518 Broadway) and at the Narrowsburg Union. Healthy Kids hopes to open the Liberty and Monticello centers on July 1, while the Narrowsburg space is expected to open in September.
On Tuesday, the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce facilitated a ribbon cutting for the Liberty 68 State Street location, as well as newly renovated business offices available for lease at neighboring 6 Wierk Avenue.
According to Healthy Kids Marketing Director Heather Lynn, they quickly realized that Sullivan County was, “ a huge child care desert,” which means there is not affordable, quality child care to meet the demands of the community.
Lynn added that they are excited to have the capability to fill some of these child care voids and be in a position to grow, citing the many providers who didn’t make it through the pandemic.
Healthy Kids Executive Director Loren Gessner explained that their Sullivan County locations will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with some opening later on Friday nights and Saturdays, to meet the demand of parents working during the weekend.
She adds that they develop a curriculum individualized to each child and create a schedule to keep them in a routine.
The Liberty location is expected to have infants, toddlers and preschoolers. 518 Broadway in Monticello will have infants and toddlers, with its preschool classroom at 21 Liberty Street, which is in close proximity.
Healthy Kids’ tuition rates per child for Sullivan County families start at $5 an hour. They also accept assistance from the Department of Social Services (DSS), which families qualify for based on their income. If families qualify for DSS, Healthy Kids then bills the State, who then covers a certain amount, if not all of that family’s child care needs.
According to Lynn, the DSS threshold is expected to increase with the recent adoption of the 2022-23 State budget.
“We want to keep our tuition rates affordable,” said Lynn. “It is kind of our model. We want to open up more locations so we can keep it affordable because it is important for us to make sure that people have access to [child care].”
Healthy Kids also accepts the Essential Workers Scholarship through the State, which provides 12 weeks of child care coverage for essential workers that qualify for the program.
Gessner mentioned the importance of getting kids back into early learning programs, and how children born during COVID have likely never seen a school.
“Early education is so important for children to get them to public school,” said Gessner. “To get them into that right direction.”
On the employment side, Healthy Kids expects to hire anywhere from five to 10 employees per location, ranging from child care assistants which need minimal experience to lead teachers who need to have a degree or a certain set of qualifications. They also plan to hire floaters/substitutes.
“It kind of paves the way for them to have a long-standing career in childcare,” said Lynn.
Gessner will be doing on-site job interviews for the 68 State Street location on May 18 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To inquire about Healthy Kids, you can call (845) 568-6100 or visit www.healthy-kidsprograms.com. They can provide information on their tuition rates, registration process, what their curriculum looks like and set up a virtual or in-person tour.
The Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce will be facilitating a ribbon cutting at Healthy Kids’ Monticello locations on May 10 from 5-7 p.m.
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