by Charles Reed
Approaching its 25th anniversary this year, the UNO Child Care Center is a campus mainstay that almost never happened.
The first steps of getting child care facility occurred in 1977 when a $62,000 grant was awarded for just such a purpose. However, instead of having the center on campus, it was contracted out to the First Christian Church across the street. Opened in June, the center was used at first used by just seven children of students, faculty and staff but many more joined and, by October, was filled to capacity.
Even at capacity, demand for use of the center was still high and plans were underway to have a larger, more centralized center on campus.
Initially slated to open in 1982, plans for a child care facility became mired in red tape and viability studies. Vice Chancellor Richard Hoover said that he hadn’t “yet seen evidence of demand” while proponents of the plan said that the demand for an on-campus facility was obvious; so much so that the student senate allocated $300 simply to advertise that need across campus.
Whether because of the advertising or in spite of it, there was a 90-percent response rate on surveys sent out by the Women’s Resource Center to gauge interest in the facility. An official “Child Care Committee” was formed in early 1982 and gave the go-ahead to begin moving forward. In the meantime, the Student Senate continued to put money forward for a child care center, voting to increase student fees by $1.50 to help fund the proposed center, raising $10,000 by the start of the 1984-1985 school year in addition to $20,000 already set aside.
By mid-1985 $50,000 had been raised and plans finally began to move forward after a purchase of homes on the west end of campus. By the beginning of 1986 a location had been chosen – Annex 47 – and a final estimate of just under $75,000 was given to renovate the house and bring it up to code.
On August 25, 1986 the UNO Child Care Center (UNOCCC) officially opened as the only on-campus child care facility in Nebraska under the direction of Joyce Kinney. The center could enroll up to 63 students (aged 18 months to six years) and contained areas for arts and crafts; quiet play; and building blocks among other spaces – including a jungle-gym structure which was still being planned. Eight staff members worked alongside Kinney to provide supervision and education.
Initially scheduled for just the fall and spring semesters, it was only a year later that the UNOCCC added a summer education program for children as old as 12 years old. As of that fall, over 105 children were enrolled in the program; however, not all of them were in the building at the same time. Over 75 percent of the children in the center were the children of students with the remaining 25 percent being made up of the children of faculty and staff. Meanwhile, the staff was also partially made up of students, with many education majors working at the facility.
The Child Care Center reached a milestone, and another first for the state, three years after its creation when, in 1990, it received national accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. That same year it received $7000 from the Student Senate to expand its facilities into the building’s garage and Omaha’s other University of Nebraska campus, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, began its own plans for a child care center.
In 1991, Kinney left her position at the UNOCCC and her assistant, Ellen Freeman-Wakefield, took over and ran the child care center for another six years, until 1997 when she left after serving the center almost all of its 11-year existence to that point. She was replaced by then-assistant director Dawn Hurlburt (now Dawn Hove) who had worked at the UNOCCC since 1993 and continues to run the facility as its longest-serving director at 14 years. However, she is not the longest-serving staff member; that honor goes to Effie Swinarksi, who has worked there since 1987.
Today, the UNOCCC retains many of the elements from its origins 25 years ago.
The renovations to Annex 47 maintained much of the house’s original design and one can quickly deduce where the living room (multipurpose area), bedrooms (toddler rooms) and garage (transition room) once were.
While equipment has changed (a wooden jungle gym in 1988 was replaced by an all-plastic model in 2000 and the knee-scrape-inducing concrete driveway was covered in plastic tire molding), the purpose of the center, to educate the university’s youngest students, remains in tact and as strong as ever.
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