After 42 years, a dream fulfilled provides huge service to the community
EVANSTON — In 1981, a few dedicated people started a child care center in a space at the Human Services building in Evanston. Fourteen years later, in 1995, the child care center moved into four detached trailer buildings located on Elm Street, behind North Elementary School.
At that time Evanston Child Development Center (ECDC) had a staff of 15 and served 40 children. Kendra West was on the board of directors and, in 2001, she was hired as the organization’s executive director.
Once hired, West realized they needed more space and a better, safer facility. The existing trailers were old and no longer met the needs of the community. The center was filled to capacity with a waiting list.
In 2005, ECDC relocated to the building which had formerly served the Lifelong Learning Center (LLC) and BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) on Summit Street. LLC and BOCES had moved to the Chevron building on Cheyenne Drive.
Uinta School District No. 1 sold the Summit Street buildings to the City of Evanston and the city allowed ECDC to occupy them. At that time, West said, ECDC was serving more than 100 children, and they realized within a very short time they would need more space, as the waiting list for children was increasing.
“In 2015, ECDC received the Early Head Start/Child Care Partnership grant, the only grant awarded in Wyoming,” West told the Herald. “We realized we would need more space to accommodate the additional Early Head Start children. We needed to build a facility for our growing preschool program. This would make room for the Early Head Start program in the main building we were already using. At that time, we had a staff of 25.”
West said it is hard to remember all the dates of ECDC’s progress because it happened so fast. She said 10 years ago, she and her staff and the board of directors had a dream. The building they were in was old and falling apart, and they wanted the children to have the best. They needed a facility that would meet the needs of the growing population of infants and toddlers waiting to get into ECDC.
They started fundraising and grant writing for a new facility. One of the first grants they received was from the Daniels Fund for $300,000. Over the next several years, they looked for other funding opportunities.
Eventually, with monies from the new tax credit grant MOFI and a low interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with other grants and fundraising efforts, ECDC is now housed in their brand-new building. The first phase of the new building was completed in 2022.
Phase 2, which added four additional classrooms, was just completed by Stout Construction and an open house was held in October. Stout Construction is now seeking bids to renovate the historic East Elementary school. ECDC would like to use it as a hub for extended family services and for their after-school program.
The new facility has a large, up-to-date kitchen. Two full-time employees and one part-time employee serve breakfast, lunch and two snacks every day for the children. They serve more than 10,000 meals and snacks each month.
They also accommodate special diets. West said, ECDC is on the same program as Uinta School District #1 (UCSD1), the Child Adult Food Program (CACFP) and they are required to meet the same guidelines.
“We have finally realized our dream! We are able to meet the needs of our community, including single moms and dads. We provide quality childcare and early education in our new facility,” West said. “However, we are struggling to find employees. We need 20 to 30 additional staff — support staff and family service workers.”
Currently, ECDC provides education and care for 275 children in Evanston. Pre-school students account for 130 of that number. ECDC has a Wyoming Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) preschool grant, which provides affordable preschool for children ages 3 to 5.
ECDC’s model has been used as the template for other schools in the state. It’s also a member of the Early Childhood Coalition, which involves principals and teachers from across the state.
“ECDC has a great relationship with UCSD No. 1,” West said. “Our pre-school program is in alignment with the district’s curriculum. We have created the Early Childhood Coalition and we meet monthly to talk about the needs of early education. Our goal is to prepare children for school. We are the only city in Wyoming with this kind of partnership. Our district understands early childhood education and supports our program.”
ECDC currently has a staff of 60 in the Evanston facility plus 15 interns through an Evanston High School program.
In 2010, through a partnership with Union Telephone and the Woody Foundation, a center in Bridger Valley was built, the Children’s Learning Foundation, which now serves 75 children. Christy Houskeeper is the director in Mountain View.
Future plans, West said, include developing a family services program in the hub, where families can get help with referral to resources in the community. They would also like to have clinics with medical personnel volunteering their time to help the families thrive. Currently, Arrowhead Dental, CG Mental Health and Uinta Family Practice provide screenings and education for all of the children. ECDC has numerous programs designed to meet the needs of the community.
“We have a $1.5 million payroll with benefits,” West said. “Single moms who are employed here receive a 50% reduced rate for their childcare. We also offer scholarships to our staff to continue their own education through Western Wyoming Community College. We currently have 10 of our teachers attending classes through Western Governors University online. Over the years, we have had 48 of our teachers graduate with degrees. This is a great place to work.”