Nonprofit Spotlight: Little Lambs Daycare

High quality, affordable childcare is an important piece of a successful community, helping businesses attract and retain workers and preparing the next generation of citizens for a great future. Childcare centers like Little Lambs Daycare of Fremont are an important part of addressing this issue in Steuben County. Little Lambs is a Steuben County nonprofit organization providing care for children ages 0-5 years, as well as some after school programming. In the words of Amber Hukill, Little Lambs Executive Director, their mission is, “to provide the best quality care that we can, and make sure children are in a nurturing and fun environment.” Because of their location near downtown Fremont, Little Lambs is able to engage the wider community. Many families bring their children from throughout Steuben County and southern Michigan, and Little Lambs is able to walk to nearby public parks for different play options. When they faced a serious building issue in 2015, the community rallied together with donations to get Little Lambs back in shape. “[Community members are] invested in this, and they feel like they’re part of the daycare,” said Claudia Smith, Little Lambs administrator.

One of the biggest challenges facing Little Lambs is staffing. “The kids are the reason why we’re here, they’re our purpose,” said Amber Hukill. Although they have occasionally struggled to find teachers and aids who are motivated, reliable, and inspired by the mission, many of their teachers have been with Little Lambs for years. They are constantly interacting with the kids, and everything involves curriculum—including play. Along with their status as a licensed childcare provider, their commitment to excellence means teachers are taking Child Development Associate classes through Early Childhood Alliance and applying for grants to fund new learning stations. They recently received funding for a woodworking bench to teach students a different set of skills, and their goal is to continue making these enhancements to their program in order to become a Level 4 Childcare Provider, the highest level on Indiana’s Paths to QUALITY rating system.

Steuben County Community Foundation has been supporting daycare and early childhood learning options in the community for years. SCCF has partnered with Early Childhood Alliance (ECA), a Fort Wayne based nonprofit who is recognized as a leader in the early childhood care and education field in northeast Indiana. With an additional 2-year grant approved in March 2019, SCCF has invested over $45,000 in early childhood education in Steuben County over the last 3 years. With this grant, ECA will continue to offer classes for Steuben County childcare staff to work towards their Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, as well as networking events, professional development, and capacity building grants, such as the woodworking bench received by Little Lambs.

Little Lambs has waiting lists for all but one of their age ranges, and other childcare providers in Steuben County are in similar situations. With this shortage of childcare providers, they have found the opportunity to collaborate with other daycare centers and share ideas to be very beneficial in their efforts. “Every day there’s an accomplishment and a milestone, because you’re seeing kids at a crucial time as they grow from infant to Pre-K,” said Hukill. When they stand on stage at Trine University for their Pre-K graduation, all the efforts to build Little Lambs as a high-quality childcare center in Fremont feel worthwhile.

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