First Sweetwater United Methodist Church had a vision. Shortly after building a Family Life Center in May 2007, church committee members brainstormed uses and ideas for the building.
“One of those visions was to start a preschool,” said Lea Watson, board member and spokesperson for First Kids. “We thought the best way was to start small with a Mother’s Day Out program.”
“First Kids,” a two-day-a-week preschool and child care opened October 2007 in the new facility. Currently, 18 children ages 18 months to five years spend four hours each Tuesday and Thursday at the center. Janet Standridge serves as director.
“Until recently, child care had always been a problem in this area,” Watson said. “Most daycares in the area had waiting lists, until now. ”
When the program first started, parents needed a safe place for children to stay while they worked or ran errands. Because of the long waiting lists, parents had to wait long periods for a space to open up in the area child cares. “First Kids” met a need in the community.
Board members recently took another step toward helping the community. Watson said the board wanted to help those in a low income bracket get child care. That’s when they established scholarships.
“The (Change For Children) grant money we received is strictly for scholarships,” Watson said. “We wanted to help the community.”
The Maryville District church received a $4,000 Change for Children grant.
The program uses guidelines already established by the federal government for receiving food stamps and/or free school lunches in public schools, Watson added. Grants cover most, but not all, the cost of the mother’s day out program.
“We felt that they need to pay something, even just $5 a month, because it makes them accountable,” she said.
So far, two families receive the scholarships. Watson said several more scholarships are available.
At one time, “First Kids” officials wanted to develop a full-time, licensed child care. The downturn in the economy delayed those plans.“When the other daycares in the area don’t have waiting lists, it would be foolish to do that,” Watson said. “It would be irresponsible.”