Church responds to pressing need


June 10, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

At Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, child care is mission.

More than 10 years ago, the 2,000 members of the Severna Park church realized they could provide high-quality child care, one of the community's most pressing needs.

They started a program, equipped with professional equipment and trained teachers and staff members. Today, the Child Care Development Center has five programs, from part-time, part-day care to all-day, all-week care, servicing about 225 children weekly.

The center isn't free, or even cheap, but the church provides $9,000 in scholarships every year to needy families and picks up much of the tab to run the program.

"We run it at a great loss," explains the Rev. Terry Schoener, pastor. "Parents do pay tuition, but members of this church make up thousands of dollars. It's the most expensive mission we have. It costs us about $50,000 a year."

"Most parents who come here don't know" the mission aspect of the service, Mr. Schoener says. "It's done without mentioning it."

The program is aimed at middle-income families who need good, affordable child care, as well as single parents trying to work while raising a child alone.

"If families can show a need, we try to help them," says director Ann Scheck. In addition to the church's scholarship fund, many parents also receive state subsidies, amounting to about $2,000 collectively each year.

Blaine Weitzel, 36, a single father raising his daughter, calls the center a "godsend".

Mr. Weitzel's daughter Jordan, 5, has been in the center since she was 2 years old.

"It's been great -- really good for me and her," he says. "It's super-important for me as a single father to have after-school care and to have good care, and they give really good care. They give a lot of individual attention."

Mr. Weitzel says he considered putting Jordan in public kindergarten last year but changed his mind when he checked out the alternatives for after-kindergarten care.

"Both of us went around to other centers that offer after-school care. Jordan decided; she said, 'I want to go back to Woods.' "

Full-day, full-week programs cost an average of $500 a month per child, but Mr. Weitzel says he considers the fees "real competitive for what you get."

Ms. Scheck says the "upper-middle income prices" reflect the church's desire not to skimp on the child-adult ratio. For example, the 2- and 3-year-old programs have three adults for 12 children.

"You can't do it right without enough people," she says. "We want to be the best possible place a child could be away from home."

The staff includes more than 20 members, more than half of whom have been with the program for nearly a decade, Ms. Scheck says.

The program, whose board is responsible to the session, or governing body, of the church, uses space in the church's new building for free, paying only a maintenance fee for cleaning and upkeep, Ms. Scheck says.

The church tries to keep costs down by welcoming donations from church families to the scholarship fund. They also include many part-time options, which reduces the cost of full-time care.

With a philosophy that children learn best when they're happy, the center tries to fulfill part of its mission by help build children's self-image, self-esteem, Ms. Scheck says.

"We want them to have a good basic experience," she says. "We can't control their whole lives, or what happens, but we can at least start them off right. We can give them a good foundation."

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