With growing need, White Earth receives $900K grant for new child care facility

In February, the White Earth child care/early childhood program had 20 children in its facility with 26 more on a waiting list. The $900K grant the program just received will help it build a new facility to care for all of those kids.

Signs welcome visitors to White Earth, Minn., on the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. The reservation is home to the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News

In the 16 years since the White Earth child care facility was built, the Headstart and child care programs have continued to grow. But, the facility has not, and it is now too small for both organizations to fit.

"When they built this building ... they didn't think about expansion," Jessica Jackson said in a phone interview on Tuesday, June 16. She is the child care/early childhood program director. "There's nowhere on this part that we can even build on."

Instead, the child care/early childhood program is building a whole new facility with space specifically designed to add on if needed. A recently awarded $900,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave them the funds for a new building.

"Headstart will take this one (the current location)" and the child care portion will move to the new facility, Jackson explained.

Children ages 3 and 4 will travel between the two facilities so they can use the classrooms that Headstart has. They won't have to travel too far, as the new building will just be down the road, between the current location and the White Earth RTC. The start date for construction is still being determined, Jackson said.


Small facility and long waiting list

Due to the limited space, different parts of the child care/early childhood program are scattered throughout different buildings.

"We've outsourced all of our personal programs," Jackson said. The infant and toddler centers, library and more are all in separate buildings from the actual center. "Nothing more will fit here."

Building a new facility that has space for all of these parts and more children is the main reason that they applied for the grant, she said. Plus, the facility has a long waiting list with long waiting periods, and Jackson wants to help clear that.

"We have parents on there nine months, a year ... waiting to get in there," she said.

The center is school-based and technically isn't a day care, Jackson explained, so the providers are required to do lessons. She thinks this is why the waiting list is so long.

In February, when they applied for the grant, there were 20 children using the child care/early childhood program and 26 more were on a waiting list.

When the pandemic struck, the facility started to only take care of children of essential workers. Currently, there are 16 children in the facility and they can't add more due to short staff and following CDC guidelines, Jackson said.

"With the new center ... we plan on opening to allow another 20 children in there," she said.


The total number of kids allowed in the new building may change after they figure out square footage and licensing, Jackson added. She is also hoping to take older kids in the new facility, as right now they only accept children up to age five.

While Jackson said that "it's a great thing both our programs grew," the new space to fit everything and everyone will be a welcome change.

More information

The White Earth child care/early childhood program is at 40560 County Highway 34 in White Earth. Jessica Jackson said it does not have requirements applicants must meet for the program.

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