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Early in my tenure at United Way, I began meeting with Bev Thurber, Executive Director of the Early Childhood Council and Mims Harris, her Board Chair. They opened my eyes to the lack of affordable childcare in Larimer County and the energy that was building in the community around this issue. Given the tight labor market in Northern Colorado, a lack of affordable, quality childcare was no longer just a “human services” issue. It was a workforce issue, with a significant impact on our ability to attract, and retain, a skilled workforce to meet the needs of growing businesses.
David May and Ann Hutchison led County-wide efforts to attract attention to this issue as part of the Chamber’s ongoing Talent 2.0 Workforce Strategy. Concurrently, the Estes Park Economic Development Corporation published a needs assessment on the topic and determined that a new nonprofit, Estes Early Childhood Education, would utilize the assessment results to identify and implement community-based solutions to address the lack of childcare for Estes Valley residents and employees.
With cities and towns, the County, nonprofits and the business community focused on this issue, we felt a clear mandate to be part of the solution. At United Way of Larimer County, we believe our role is to be responsive to community priorities and utilize our expertise and influence to bring public, nonprofit and private sector resources together to solve local challenges. We realize we can’t do this alone, and are thankful to work in an environment filled with municipalities, foundations, the County, elected officials, businesses and service groups who are engaged and proactive about addressing human service needs.
Our serendipitous location, co-located with one of the best childcare centers in the County, Teaching Tree, allowed us to see first-hand the challenges that early care and education centers are facing. It also provided some “low-hanging fruit” for being part of the solution!
Teaching Tree’s Executive Director, Anne Lance, is passionate about high-quality care and expanding access to families who need it most. Our conversations, and subsequent discussions with City Manager Darin Atteberry and the City of Fort Collins Sustainability Services staff, were the genesis of what would become more than six months of brainstorming and negotiations. The goal – to double the number of children served at Teaching Tree in a financially sustainable manner.
In order to increase capacity, while continuing to subsidize tuition for low-income families, Teaching Tree needed to capitalize on the economies of scale that are realized when a childcare center can expand in place, rather than opening a separate facility.
The solution? Expand in place, and repurpose the entire United Way building for Teaching Tree’s use. Repurposing the current Pine Street building will allow Teaching Tree to double its census, increasing capacity by over 100 infants, toddler and preschoolers in early 2020! Construction will begin this spring with an expected completion in January. This summer, United Way will move into a new building owned by Brinkman at 525 W. Oak Street, less than a mile from our current location. The structure for our new lease will provide United Way with a long-term home, and will increase the financial support we are able to provide for early care and education initiatives around the County.
This “mission-based move” would not have been possible without the leadership, support and partnership of so many. First and foremost, I’d like to thank the members of the board of directors at both Teaching Tree and United Way of Larimer County for their vision and commitment to young children and working families. This includes United Way of Larimer County’s Board Chair, Tracy Oldemeyer, who spent countless hours reviewing documents related to this move and has been so generous with her legal expertise. In addition, I want to commend the leadership at the City of Fort Collins, its Real Estate team and Social Sustainability Department for addressing the need for more affordable childcare through City resources and creative partnerships. And finally, this expansion, and United Way’s move, would not have been possible without the generosity and creativity of one of Larimer County’s only certified B-Corps, Brinkman. Brinkman’s commitment to using their business as a force for good, combined with their recent acquisition of a building suitable for United Way operations, created a home-run of opportunities that will benefit United Way, Teaching Tree and families with young children throughout our County.
Please stay tuned for exciting updates on our new facility, and progress on Teaching Tree’s expansion. Updates on United Way’s move will be posted to our website. To learn more about how you can support United Way or Teaching Tree through our upcoming transitions, please contact Allison Hines, Senior Vice President of Resource Development.
Annie Davies, President / CEO
United Way of Larimer County
Copyright 2015 United Way of Larimer County