Rural Communities Rally to End Child Care Deserts

From Grand Junction to Holyoke, local leaders and community members are rallying to find solutions and create much-needed child care centers.
Courtesy of Adventure Academy

Rural communities face an abundance of challenges when it comes to access to resources, such as high-quality healthcare, education, or economic opportunity. While many of these issues are incredibly intertwined, there is one challenge that has a highly impact on the success of a community and touches many different walks of life: access to high-quality, affordable child care. 

Courtesy of Adventure Academy

From the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains, and areas in between, parents face challenges in ensuring their young children have a safe, enriching place to go while they earn a living.

A 2022 9News report on child care deserts defined them as a census area with “at least 50 kids under age five, and either no child care center in that neighborhood, or at least three kids vying for one open spot.” The Colorado Sun reported that over half of Colorado’s population lives in a child care desert. While child care deserts can be present in urban communities, the impact on rural communities is particularly significant. 

For rural communities, access to child care for families can be the difference for whether a family stays or leaves a town. This impacts a community’s economy and its ability to retain a strong workforce. Additionally, child care deserts disproportionately affect women. A Center for American Progress report finds that there is a 3% lower labor force participation for mothers living in child care deserts compared to those with access to adequate child care. However, this difference isn’t reported for men’s labor force rates. 

The numbers are shocking, and the situation seems bleak. However, hope is not lost. A number of community members across the state are working to be “a part of the solution,” as Betsy Bair, the corporate affairs administrator at Community Hospital in Grand Junction, puts it.

Bair and other leaders at Community Hospital have worked tirelessly towards funding, building, operating, and growing an on-site child care facility to serve both hospital workers and general community members. The work was sparked by a Mesa County report that discovered there were 4,000 child care spots available in the area, but a need for 8,000. 

“The study showed us that there was a huge need for quality access, so we started brainstorming,” said Bair. “Then, after the pandemic, I think our nation and the State of Colorado really took an active interest in child care at that point as well.”

As Bair mentioned, COVID exacerbated the need for child care, especially for essential workers such as hospital employees. While work was already underway to meet the community child care needs, additional momentum and funding opportunities came as a result of the pandemic.

Courtesy of Adventure Academy

After years of fundraising, building, advocating, and planning, Adventure Academy opened its doors in September 2023, and now serves families of both Community Hospital and of the general Grand Junction community. Jennifer Knott, the operator at Adventure Academy, is pleased with the outcomes of its 100 spot center. 

“I think the biggest outcome is that families are able to stay in our area,” said Knott. “For parents and families to be able to stay in Colorado and in western Colorado because they have a child care option…that’s huge.” 

For Knott, another significant win is playing a role in improving education for children of the Grand Junction community, as educational enrichment at a young age can impact academic success later in life.

Courtesy of Trisha Herman, Holyoke Community Childcare

Another Colorado community over 400 miles east of Grand Junction has experienced similar challenges with child care shortages, but is also working together to be part of the solution.

Like Grand Junction, the northeastern town of Holyoke is in a child care desert. Trisha Herman, a Holyoke resident, became an advocate for change after facing her own child care challenges.

She and a group of moms began rallying around the issue, and eventually worked to get local business owners to invest both energy and financial resources into finding a solution. Eventually, the Holyoke Community Childcare Initiative was formed, bringing together a variety of stakeholders to discuss child care challenges and solutions. 

“It always takes a team,” said Herman. “We have everybody on board, from our superintendent at the school district, our CEO at the hospital, along with board members.”

As a result of strong community involvement and consistent efforts to get the project funded, Holyoke leaders are hoping to break ground on the Holyoke Childcare Center in fall 2024. The center will be a 12,000 square foot facility, accommodating 116 children and creating 15 jobs in the community. 

Like Knott of Adventure Academy, Herman also recognized the role the child care center will play in keeping families in the community. 

“The impact [of the child care center] is for the community of Holyoke and young families; whether it’s families moving back, families deciding to stay, or new families to come, having quality child care is essential,” said Herman.

The work is far from finished, and leaders from both of these communities acknowledge there are still significant challenges and barriers to overcome. However, stories like that of Adventure Academy and Holyoke Community Childcare Center prove that, with a community of passionate and dedicated problem-solvers, even the most daunting of challenges can be overcome. 

That’s the spirit of Boettcher. 

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