YWCA working with Columbia County to solve childcare crisis

Pictured: The Jolly Green Giant (upper left), a folk art reminder of days when Dayton was a major asparagus canning hub, overlooks the proposed site of a new YWCA childcare center.

The Columbia County Health System has recently completed a grant requesting funding for a new childcare center in Dayton.

And when the grant called for a partner to provide the care, the health system turned to the YWCA center, My Friends’ House.

A group of business leaders, educators, and local government officials enthusiastically support the grant, believing the center will have a positive effect on local economic development. Mayor Zac Weatherford of the City of Dayton said, “The lack of child care facilities within our area is keeping prospective employees from filling important positions in our community.”

Particularly struggling with recruitment and retention are organizations that provide health care.

A parent and registered nurse wrote in support of the grant, “In general healthcare lacks healthcare providers, and patients’ need for healthcare services is increasing. Living in a community that does not provide childcare decreases my opportunity to give the time and services that our community desperately needs.”

YWCA Childcare Director Tabitha Haney, a Dayton resident, has been watching her town’s dwindling care options with growing concern.

“Having a fun and safe environment for children,” said Tabitha, “will allow families to work, knowing their child is being loved and cared for.”

Like other employers, Dayton School District has felt the childcare pinch in recruiting staff.
And Superintendent Guy Strot pointed out yet another problem for the new center to address: kindergarten readiness. “If all of our students could participate in early learning, it could be transformational for many of our students and their families,” he said in a letter of support for the center.

Tabitha has been working with the Early Learning Coalition on childcare needs during COVID and beyond and has been part of the Columbia County Childcare committee since its inception.
“Tabitha’s considerable knowledge of licensing and other program details have been invaluable to this project,” said Anne-Marie Zell Schwerin, Executive Director.

A history of caring

Since 1987, YWCA Walla Walla has operated My Friends’ House (MFH), a licensed childcare program for children ages 1-6.

The program began in response to the need for quality licensed care. MFH is one of the few providers in Walla Walla to serve families of all incomes, from those on state subsidy (which requires licensed care) to those who pay rates closer to the actual cost of care.

In 2014, MFH began the process of Early Achievers, a continuous quality improvement process. Early Achievers has resulted in better experiences for children, and staff have the opportunity to pursue early childhood education degrees on full scholarship from the State of Washington.

While waiting for approval of grant funding, the YWCA continues actively looking for spaces in which to provide care until a permanent facility is in place. “Tabitha’s strong relationships with childcare licensing,” said Anne-Marie, “and her involvement with the project has had licensors say that they would fast track whatever is needed in order to get care up and running in Columbia County. “