“We want families to feel they're empowered with solid information so as they're doing their search for child care, they can ask the right questions, look at the environment and have a way to evaluate a child care facility” says Reva Wywadis, executive director of Child Care Aware ® of Eastern Kansas (CCAEK) in Topeka. Founded in 1978, and in partnership with Child Care Aware ® of America, the organization assists not only parents, but child care providers as well.
Before becoming an employee of the non-profit, Reva took advantage of the services herself in multiple capacities. First, it was to find child care for her own children. Then in the late 80s and early 90s, she became a child care provider. “I turned to the agency, what was then Everywoman's Resource Center (ERC), for information and resources,” she says.
Child Care Centers
CCAEK refers parents to approximately 1400 child care programs licensed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in the 33 county region it serves, and so another large part of its mission is providing support and services to ensure that these providers flourish. “With classroom coaching, we can have staff go into the facility to watch a teacher in action and provide some helpful feedback and suggestions,” says Reva.
Virginia Cardenas, the director of Mater Dei Child Care in Topeka, says this coaching has been invaluable. “Last July, I was able to enroll my staff in the literacy program connection to make us an even better quality child care center. We love our coach Miss Debbie; she is just a blessing.”
When her center needed a visual communication board for one of its students that was struggling with transition time, she says Miss Debbie made one. “She put it together and it’s wonderful. That's just one of the ways in which she improved our classroom and made it run smoothly. She also helps our teachers by giving them great ideas.”
Melissa Patterson, owner of Patterson Family Child Care Center in Topeka, became involved with Child Care Aware in 2007 when she moved her child care business to Topeka. “They provided resources for structuring my business and with resources for my business,” she says.
In 2011, Patterson Child Care Center was named the provider of the year for the state of Kansas by The Child Care Provider Coalition of Kansas and has also received the Kansas Minority-Owned Business of the Year award from the Kansas Department of Commerce. The wealth of knowledge and resources she was given by CCAEK have contributed to her thriving business; her center will celebrate its 26th year this coming August.
The organization offers services to any family in the state of Kansas. For Sara O’Keefe, the mother of a toddler, these referrals were instrumental in finding child care. “I first reached out to CCA in 2021 when I was about six months pregnant for assistance in finding a child care provider as I knew we'd need to get on a waiting list,” she says. “I contacted them again when our slated child care center closed unexpectedly a few weeks before we were supposed to start.
We contacted CCA a third time when we had some questions and needed to look for other options.” She adds, “What many don't talk about is that once you find child care, the search isn't over. You’ll likely be in this boat again and again as things fluctuate. Families are faced with long waitlists and it’s quite a challenge to find care for their children.”
Many of the non-profit’s programs are funded through a host of grants and contracts. “Some of these are federal funding that flows down to the state and then is granted out,” says Reva. “We also have quite a bit of programming that is funded through the Kansas Children's Cabinet and Trust Fund. Then, of course, we do our own fundraising.”
One of its most anticipated fundraisers each year is its Designers’ Showhouse. “We've done it for over 40 years and it's a beloved community event,” says Gina Nellis, its chairperson during the last five years “We have about 10 different designers involved in this house, and they each have a different space, so it's fun to see all the different styles come together.”
CCAEK also works with the Topeka Area Building Association to ensure that all the contractors, plumbers and electricians are licensed. These professionals, along with the designers, all donate their services, and most of the product is donated or discounted.
“This is the fourth home that Child Care Aware has purchased, and once the event is over, we'll sell it,” she says. “The proceeds from the flip and the ticket sales will go back to the organization.”
Its Patrons’ party will kick off the Showhouse on April 14th and then it opens to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from April 21st through May 7th . Prior to Covid, 4,000 to 6,000 people would tour the featured home.
“We also have individual donors who believe in the work we do and acknowledge how important it is,” says Reva. “The research is so clear that what happens in the first five years of a child's life really lays the foundation for how successful they will be once they enter school, whether they will graduate and how they will function as a young adult and as an older adult. We want to make sure that every child has the opportunity to get off to a great start whether that’s in child care or at home with a parent.”
In addition to funding, volunteers also help support CCAEK. “Sometimes it’s a one-day project,” she says. “We recently had a team of volunteers deliver postcards with information on kindergarten readiness to area pediatricians and dental offices. Another group of volunteers make little cuddle blankets that are given to new moms when they have a baby.”
From time to time, volunteers go into their office to help with mailings and general office work. Another way to support its mission, adds Reva, is to become a well-informed advocate.
“I feel so blessed to have worked over 20 years for an agency with a mission that I care so much about and that’s making a difference in the lives of kids and families,” she says. “As a parent myself and now a grandparent, I know how important child care and early learning is.
Adds Melissa, “It takes a village to raise children and Child Care Aware is a part of that village.”
To learn more, go to East.KS.ChildCareAware.org.