Client increase leads to hire

Babies Mason and Zoey played contentedly Monday on a colorful mat at the Bethlehem United Methodist Child Development Center in Claremont, laughing and babbling at each other.

The babies could soon be joined by more playmates after another Claremont day care facility closed unexpectedly, forcing many parents to find other child care options.

Since Kids Only of North Carolina day care closed unexpectedly a week ago, Bethlehem United Methodist Child Development Center received 10 applications requesting child care services. Of those 10, nine were from families who were displaced from the Kids Only closure.

Bethlehem United Methodist hired a new teacher Thursday, just three days after receiving the 10 applications, to accommodate new students.

"We thought, 'What can we do to help?'" said Child Development Center director Tracie Hice. "... As soon as we found out (about the closure), we got on the phone and called our volunteers."

The center received calls requesting child care immediately after Kids Only closed March 21. The four-star facility operates on Highest Voluntary Enhanced guidelines, which require a specific teacher-to-child ratio for various age groups in the center. The Center couldn't simply take in the displaced children, because of laws mandating the specific ratios.

Infants require a 1-4 or 2-8 ratio; toddlers require a 1-5 or 2-10 ratio; 3-year-olds require a 1-9 ratio; and pre-Kindergarten students require a 1-10 ratio. Each age level also has specific limits to the number of children in each classroom.

The Child Development Center already brought one displaced child into the facility, because its parents had no family in the area to provide temporary care.

"We stepped up, and we brought that one child in," Hice said.

The Child Development Center's Board of Directors met Thursday to discuss the facility's need for growth, and they agreed to hire a new teacher. Hice said she has another teacher lined up to start teaching, if the facility's number of children continues to grow.

"Even with the economic downturn, we've been doing well," said Robert Allen, a member of the Child Development Center's board of directors.

About 40 children are registered at the Center, which is licensed to serve a maximum of 63. Hice said the facility doesn't plan to expand to full capacity up to 63 students because of the Child Development Center's stringent child-to-teacher ratio.

The Center's new teacher is expected to start her job in the coming weeks, as soon as necessary steps are completed. Each teacher and volunteer at the facility is required to undergo a background check, be fingerprinted and take a tuberculosis test.

Hice said once the new teacher's start date is confirmed, she will alert the families waiting to attend the Child Development Center.

The Center operates in Bethlehem United Methodist Church's facilities on Catawba Street in Claremont as part of the church's ministry. The day care is open to all children, regardless of their families' religious beliefs.

"The church has always been in the people ministry," said the Rev. Dr. Perry Miller, pastor at Bethlehem United Methodist Church. "Churches everywhere have wanted to open their doors to people. ... Nothing can be better than starting with early childhood."