Little Feet parents to work to keep the center open | AspenTimes.com
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Little Feet parents to work to keep the center open

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Parents with children in Little Feet Day Care voiced strong support Tuesday night for keeping the center open.

Citing financial troubles, the center’s board of directors is considering closing the doors permanently. But parents said they would gladly volunteer their time to try to keep the center open.

On Monday night the City Council agreed to give Little Feet $8,237 for first-quarter operations. Little Feet board members said they think the city will grant the center funds for the second quarter, but they had planned to shut down in June, when the money from the city runs out.

In a room of about 40 people, many parents said they were shocked to learn of the center’s predicament.

“I had no idea you guys needed more support. I’d be willing to do something to help out,” said Randy Placeres, father of two girls who attend the center. “I was shocked to find out you were in this predicament.”

Todd Stewart, the center’s board treasurer and acting president, told the group that Little Feet has struggled financially for “quite some time now,” and apologized for not informing parents and staff sooner. He said the center’s board members only recently began looking at getting another childcare center to take over their operation by June 1.

Stewart was not specific about the monetary woes that Little Feet has endured since it began operating in 1991. Although the center enjoys free rent from Pitkin County in the Schultz Heath and Human Services Building, he said the center is $50,000 in debt.

Little Feet board member Karen Jaworski said she’s lucky if she can solidify $5,000 in grants each year for the day care center.

“The valley has very few local foundations, and outside the valley, we don’t get a lot of sympathy for Aspen,” she said while bouncing a baby on her hip. “There’s also a manpower problem – there’s not enough people on the board, but not for lack of trying.”

Kids First, a city department funded by an Aspen sales tax that provides funds to nonprofit childcare providers, helped facilitate Tuesday night’s meeting.

Kids First director Shirley Ritter presented several options: having an existing provider either provide space or absorb kids into their program, ending service permanently, establishing a for-profit business, or creating a new nonprofit to run the existing program.

Roaring Fork Kids, another nonprofit day care provider in Aspen, is considering being the center that could take over Little Feet’s operations, but officials stress that nothing is certain. Roaring Fork Kids pulled themselves out of a similar dilemma just a year and a half ago, forming a nonprofit when the Aspen Skiing Co. shut down its nonprofit facility in 2001.

“Roaring Fork Kids has a terrific and energized board who were able to create a new nonprofit from scratch,” Ritter said. “It takes a toll on people, and it’s very hard work, even when parents are working full time.”

A number of parents at the meeting expressed interest in keeping Little Feet going as a viable nonprofit, through increased fund-raising and volunteer hours.

“Little Feet is a solution for many of us who need childcare because we provide service for the community,” said parent Ed Engelke. “My daughter comes home excited every night – she’s 2 and a half. Why should we end Little Feet when it’s such a great asset for this community?”

Parents agreed to attend meetings Thursday and next Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the health and human services building, where they will brainstorm ways to save the day care center.

Although the demand for infant and toddler childcare is high in the Roaring Fork Valley, Ritter said it’s a very expensive service to provide, since Colorado mandates that accredited centers have one teacher for every four infants.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]


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