Wagner Early Childhood in south-central South Dakota has been caring for children for more than 30 years and Rural Development Community Facilities loans and grants have helped in many ways, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When schools and businesses closed because of the pandemic, many teachers took their kids out of daycare. Our enrollment dropped significantly,” said Pam Beeson, Wagner Early Childhood Director. “But because we’ve been able to qualify for loans and grants as a non-profit business, we were able to keep our doors open and keep the facility up-to-date.”
Pam has been with Wagner Early Childhood since 1994. She said applying for loans and grants can be a challenging process when you first begin, but learning the steps and following the advice of Rural Development’s experienced staff can make all the difference while navigating the paperwork.
“Alison has been an incredible resource for us,” said Pam. “She’s just a phone call away and is quick to provide answers to our questions. If there’s ever a time we need to meet in person, she’s only an hour away in Yankton.”
Alison Larson, Rural Development’s Community Programs Loan Specialist, said Wagner Early Childhood has navigated the applications effectively and received investments to update flooring, kitchen appliances, sidewalks and more. “If a non-profit daycare can identify a need to increase safety and education for students and staff, we may have a program to help support it,” said Alison.
Wagner Early Childhood shares a building with the South Dakota Department of Health’s Women, Infants and Children program, and south-central Child Development, Inc., which manages the Head Start program. Pam said this co-location means families using more than one of the services has access to everything in one stop.
Through our programs we can invest in this vital community asset and help keep the doors open.
The center was recently awarded a grant to replaced sidewalks around the facility, which greatly improved the safety of the children, parents and staff. The investment also included funds to replace kitchen equipment that was beyond its useful life and required extensive maintenance to keep it functioning.
“Wagner Early Childhood is a perfect example of Rural Development’s impact on rural South Dakota,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Nikki Gronli. “Daycares in rural South Dakota are in a crisis. That means rural families don’t have the safe childcare they need to just go to work each day. Through our programs we can invest in this vital community asset and help keep the doors open. Pam and her staff are critical to Wagner. “
Pam said Rural Development’s importance to small communities can’t be overstated. Because of these programs, businesses like Wagner Early Childhood can continue to operate and keep the facility safe for those utilizing the services.
The center is currently focused on updating their aging Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system. One of the five units failed during this past winter, causing the temperature to drop significantly in the childcare center and needed to be replaced with outside temperatures dipping to -20 degrees. Pam hopes a new system will mean additional savings and greater reliability during South Dakota’s extreme temperatures. She has already reached out to RD to discuss this need.
It means we can provide better services to the families we serve in our community.
Pam encourages other daycares looking to apply for Rural Development funding to read everything thoroughly and take it step-by-step. The Rural Development staff is a great resource for questions.
“It takes time to apply, but it is so worth it,” said Pam. “These grant and loan investments help offset our expenses and makes every dollar go a little further. It means we can provide better services to the families we serve in our community.”
The center’s 9 staff currently teach more than 50 children between the ages of 4 weeks and 12 years old, with a capacity over 90 students. The improvements made through Rural Development’s investments have helped keep the facility in tip-top shape and ready for the next generation of students.
Visit www.rd.gov/sd to learn more about programs for your community and how to apply.