Finding a solution for childcare need
Having been involved in it for over 20 years, Jamie Gillund understands there is a high demand for childcare, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The hardest part of dealing with COVID-19 is the increased demand in childcare and not being able to help more families struggling to find care," said Gillund. "When school switched to distance learning my phone started ringing within minutes of the announcement. Families with school-aged children needed care because the parents still needed to go to work."
Gillund, who runs Little Explorers Childcare Center out of her home in Ghent, decided the best way to solve the problem, would be to fulfill a dream and build a childcare center in town. She recently went to the Lyon County Commissioners during a board meeting (see separate story) in an attempt to get financial backing for a new childcare facility in Ghent.
Because the board has yet to decide on financing the project, Gillund went ahead and sought financing elsewhere as a backup plan.
"Childcare has always been my life," said Gillund. "I was the little girl who always had a baby doll in my arms everywhere I went. I started babysitting as soon as I could and did that all the way through high school."
While attending Southwest Minneota State University for Education, Gillund worked at the childcare center on campus.
"I fell in love with the childcare atmosphere and loved caring for the younger ages," she said. "At that time, I made the decision that I would one day own my own center."
Gillund graduated from SMSU with a BA degree in Early Childhood Education, and after working at the campus childcare there, left to open her own in-home childcare business.
"I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life," she said. "Being able to work collaboratively with parents to raise little ones is the best feeling. I get to spend 40-50 hours a week with these children snuggling, teaching, laughing, and enjoying every little moment with them."Gillund is currently licensed for 12 children at her Little Explorers Childcare Center that she has run the past 17 years. She has been at the maximum number of children for as long as she can remember.
"If I have a spot open it is because I am holding it for a new baby," Gillund noted. "The temporary open spot allows me to help other families in the community looking for drop-in care. I care for children as young as six weeks, all the way to 11 years old."
Once the pandemic hit last March and students began distance learning, the need for childcare skyrocketed.
"Another hard part in dealing with COVID-19 is not being able to help more families who are struggling to find childcare," said Gillund. "When school switched to distance learning, my phone started ringing within minutes of the announcement. Families with school-aged children needed care because the parents still needed to go to work."
Quarantining has become another issue during the pandemic. Childcare providers have had to shut down if one of the children or workers is exposed to the virus or has tested positive. This also increases the need for childcare as parents need to seek another provider.
"When my family needed to quarantine because of exposure, I was required to close, leaving the families in my daycare without care," said Gillund. "Four out of the six families I currently care for are considered Tier 1 workers and struggled finding back-up care while I was in quarantine."
So Gillund came up with the idea of constructing a new large childcare facility.
As of now, she is waiting for all the financial paperwork to be approved before her dream comes to fruition.
"Southwest Minnesota is in a childcare crisis and all the surrounding daycares (in-home, or centers) have waiting lists for most of the age groups," Gillund remarked. "It's always been a dream of mine to open a childcare center. I have seriously investigated opening a center two other times in the last 17 years."
So Gillund feverishly began researching several buildings in Ghent, Marshall and Minneota trying to find an existing building that could be renovated into a childcare center.
"I also toured active centers and spoke with directors all over Minnesota learning as much as I can about their set-ups and what does and does not work for their center," she said. "In the end, I realized the quality center I wanted would need to be built."
And not only would the new building help satisfy the need for childcare, it would also provide many new jobs. Gillund figured that if the new center was at full capacity, it would employ seven full-time and five part-time employees. Those employees would include teachers, aides, a cook and substitutes.
Gillund will be the owner and director of the new center and does not plan to co-partner with anyone.
After carefully considering all other options, Gillund soon realized that the only was she would be satisfied with the layout of the center she wanted to have built was to design it herself.
After initially drawing up a floor plan on a piece of notebook paper, she showed the idea to her husband, Kurt.
"Kurt has been an amazing support and help with the center," she said. "He has always known that this is something I have wanted to do, so when I came to him with the crazy idea of building a new center right here in Ghent he did not even hesitate and said, 'If this is something you want to do, we will make it happen'. He might not come out and say it, but he has also become attached to the daycare kids that are in our house. In the end, I could not do this center without him."
The Gillunds are also keeping busy with five children of their own, Daylin, 15; Skyla, 14; Kestler, 8; Whitney, 6; and Gunner, 3.
Kurt looked over his wife's floor plan for the proposed center, drew it to scale, and came up with his own creative additions. The Gillunds eventually sent their plan to an architect in order to be assured that the center met all the required safety codes and ADA requirements.
Following several changes in order to make the center more affordable, the architect returned a finalized floor plan.
The plan calls for the center to be approximately 4,500 square feet. It will include a front counter for checking in, an office, full commercial kitchen and four classrooms. The center will be able to have 57 children and will include an infant room, toddler room, preschool room and school-aged room. Each classroom will have its own bathroom designed for that age group.
Gillund also feels that Ghent is the perfect location for the new childcare center. The center will be built on two lots in the new Bluebird Addition just south of Highway 68 in Ghent. Construction would begin in the spring.
"Our small town is an amazing place that is constantly growing," she explained. "The town is looking into adding another housing addition since the current lots are almost all sold. Also, with the amount of traffic passing through Ghent, it makes it a great place for a childcare center. Having a center in Ghent also works great for families who have children in Marshall, Minneota, or Lynd school districts. All the buses come to Ghent."
If everything goes as planned, Gillund is hoping to be licensed and open in August of 2021.
"I know filling a center for 57 children will not be a problem," she said.