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Little Feet running out of time

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The future of childcare for 32 youngsters remains up in the air today, though the Aspen City Council stepped up Monday to make sure Little Feet Day Care can remain in operation through March.

The council approved an appropriation of $8,237 from its childcare funds to cover first-quarter operations of Little Feet, which plans to phase out its operations sometime in May or June.

The financially struggling nonprofit childcare provider has concluded it can no longer make a go of it, according to Todd Stewart, its board treasurer and acting president.

Little Feet currently has 32 children enrolled in its operation at the Schultz Health and Human Services Building. They include infants, toddlers and preschool-age children.

A parent/community meeting is scheduled tonight at 5 in the building conference room to discuss the exit of Little Feet and possible options to continue the program in its wake.

Roaring Fork Kids, a nonprofit day-care provider at the Yellow Brick School, may come to the rescue. Its board of directors voted last night to explore the idea.

Nothing, however, is definite yet, cautioned Christina Holloway, director of Roaring Fork Kids.

“We are in the initial stages of looking at this,” she said. “We are not definitely going to start another operation at that locale.”

But “there are a lot of things we would have to overcome before becoming operational in that location.”

Roaring Fork Kids, however, has some experience at stepping in to keep a childcare operation going. Parents and staffers organized Roaring Fork Kids to take over the former Kids’ Club operated by the Aspen Skiing Co. The Skico shut down its day-care program in 2001, leaving parents in a quandary.

Some parents panicked when the Skico announced Kids’ Club would close its doors, as there wasn’t sufficient space at other facilities to absorb their children. With help from Kids First, parents and staffers found a solution by creating their own nonprofit care provider.

That’s an option for parents who have enrolled their children at Little Feet, noted Debbie Braun, a member of the Kids First board and one of the parents who helped organize Roaring Fork Kids.

Kids First, a department of the city, provides subsidies to nonprofit childcare providers and financial aid to families who have children in childcare. It is funded by a city sales tax.

Kids First will host tonight’s meeting, with the goal of answering parents’ questions, said director Shirley Ritter.

“They’re the ones kinda hanging out there right now,” she said.

If Roaring Fork Kids assumes the operation of Little Feet, children enrolled in Little Feet will have priority, Holloway said.

Ideally, Little Feet would fold and Roaring Fork Kids would take over without any disruption in service, Stewart added.

“We hope this will be as seamless as, Friday it’s Little Feet, Monday it’s Roaring Fork Kids,” he said.

Little Feet is currently scheduled to receive four quarterly grants from the city in 2003. Its second quarterly payment, to keep it running until it closes, would be forthcoming as long as the operation complies with various conditions established by Kids First, according to Ritter.

If it were to close sooner than anticipated, there isn’t room in other local childcare operations for all of the children currently cared for at Little Feet, she said.

Little Feet is especially critical because it is one of only three providers in Pitkin County that offers infant care, Ritter added.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls from parents who have infants who aren’t in a program,” she said.

Ritter is encouraging new parents who will be looking for infant care to attend tonight’s meeting.

Parents of children enrolled in Little Feet will be provided with childcare during tonight’s session.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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