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United Way looks at Wesley United Methodist Church building as potential child care center in Grand Forks

Grand Forks Herald - 11/12/2022

Nov. 12—GRAND FORKS — United Way of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Area is looking at the former Wesley United Methodist Church building as a potential location for a child care center, though the plans are still in the early stages.

Executive Director Heather Novak said a letter of intent still needs to be signed. If that happens, there will be up to a 120-day period for due diligence, providing a chance to analyze the extent of repairs needed and for United Way to "really do our research and make sure that we're getting into a good building and that we can financially fund that building," Novak said.

If the building's repairs aren't too extensive and costly, a contract for deed will be signed — meaning United Way would pay the purchase price for the building. At present, the building is owned by the Wesley United Conference, based out of South Dakota.

To help pay for the needed work, United Way will launch a capital campaign and work on grants for those project costs. Novak said it's already known the HVAC system in the building will need to be updated as there is no air conditioning in the east part of the building.

"So with updates like that, we will have to do a capital campaign and apply for grants to raise funds for those things," Novak said. "Depending on what the renovation costs are will depend on if we move forth to have an actual contract for deed."

If the building doesn't work out, Novak said United Way will continue looking for other potential buildings in Grand Forks. United Way's search for a building to turn into a child care center has been ongoing since the spring of 2020. Finding a building hasn't been easy.

Plans for the child care center started when United Way's focus changed, starting in the fall of 2019. At that point, the organization opted to have direct services for families in the Greater Grand Forks region rather than being a pass-through organization.

Child care, Novak said, is an obstacle for many families with whom United Way works.

"We want our families to have long-term stability, but it's very hard for some of our families to get employment if they don't have child care," Novak said.

Child care availability has been a topic of discussion in the region, too.

Town hall meetings

in East Grand Forks were held earlier in the year to gather solutions to help those in need of child care and providers in the community. Child care has been listed as a priority by Grand Forks city officials as well.

United Way has worked to stay up to date on the gaps in child care and what can be done to provide those services for families.

"We really want to focus on the Grand Forks area, trying to expand child care openings to allow people to have employment and then also being able to provide some of the services that we already have in place with our families at the child care center," Novak said.

Some of those services include the Kidz Closet, which provides children with free basic necessities, such as clothing, hygiene products and school supplies.

The Families First Program, which started in the fall of 2020, provides services for families with children under the age of 18 living at home. United Way social workers and case managers work with families on child care assistance applications, housing applications and securing documents like birth certificates and Social Security cards. Additional services offered within the Families First Program include emergency shelter, housing and utility assistance and connecting families with community resources to establish long-term housing solutions.

United Way's goal for the child care center is to provide care for children, ranging in age from infants to 12. If the building is large enough, Novak said up to 135 slots will be available with roughly 27 full-time employees. Another goal would be to become preschool licensed in the future.

The child care center will be open for all families in the area, and rates will be comparable with other child care centers. United Way also will offer scholarships and tuition assistance for families who need it.

Novak reiterated that the plans for a potential child care center in the former Wesley United Methodist Church building are still in the early stages. The plan isn't quite there, but the organization's goal is focused.

"Our goal long-term is to provide child care and wraparound services to families in the Grand Forks community. But again, we can only move as fast as the buildings will let us," Novak said.


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