For more than 30 years, the UNO Child Care Center (UNOCCC) has served as an incredible asset to UNO students who otherwise would have to choose between their families and earning an education. Now, thanks to a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education, many of these students are getting additional financial support.
The UNOCCC was recently awarded $165,940 a year, for four years, as part of the CCAMPIS, or Child Care Access Means Parents in School, grant. A majority of the funding will go towards scholarships that will help low-income families cover costs of enrolling at the center.
The award was the only one of its kind issued in Nebraska for this grant cycle.
"The premise is to help low-income families so they won't have to worry about where the money is going to come from to pay for childcare so they can go to school," explains Dawn Hove-Casart, director of the UNOCCC. "In a roundabout way it really helps everybody."
One of those families is the Smith family, with Clay Smith and Heather Smith both enrolled as undergraduate students and their two children, 3-year-old Sebastian and Emaline who turns 2 in February, enrolled as students at the UNO Child Care Center. Clay is earning Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Studies degree and has been a student since 2004; Heather has been pursuing a degree in graphic design since 2016.
Enrolling Sebastian and Emaline in the Child Care Center has allowed the Smiths a flexibility they previously hadn't had.
"Having the kids there means we can take care of classes on site when we need to. Before we had the kids in the child care program it was just taking a couple of online classes because that was all you could do," Clay explains.
Now, because of the grant, the strain of balancing work, classes and family has become that much easier to handle and provided additional opportunities for Sebastian and Emaline as well.
"It's allowed us to have both kids attend the Child Care Center full time, which is something we wanted to do to give them the full version and before we just couldn't afford it," Clay says. "It also allows them to grow and expand through the Child Care Center because they have everything they need there to get the immersion with other kids their age and without the grant we wouldn't be able to do that."
Hove-Casart says in addition to the grant providing financial support for tuition, it will also help cover technology updates, facility renovations; parent workshops and events; and professional training for center staff.
"We are one of those programs where parents really want to come and get their child a high-quality education because, as we say, starting at 18 months we are gearing them up for the next however many years of their education with the premise that when they grow up they can go to school here themselves when they become college aged."
That is exactly what happened for Brian Lee, who attended the UNOCCC soon after it opened in the late 1980s and now has four-year-old twin boys, Nate and Zach, who are enrolled themselves.
Brian has been attending classes at UNO since 2004 and as the father of four, also including an 8-year-old and 12-year old, his primary focus has been providing for his family.
"When the twins were born my wife and I decided that we would save on daycare costs and have me switch gears and be a stay at home dad, working very minimal hours part time, and that I would evntually go back and finally finish my degree," he explains.
Lee says that the CCAMPIS grant removes a significant barrier towards completing his Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Studies degree, which he is set to earn in May.
"It’s been a long road, but it’s important to me that my children see that both of their parents went to college and received degrees. UNOCCC has been incredible to and for my family."
The awarding of the grant marks the third time, since 2000, that the UNOCCC has received CCAMPIS funding from the Department of Education. It is an effort Hove-Casart says she continually fights for - because of experiences like those of the Smith and Lee families.
"To see their faces when we can say OK, you can focus on going to school, you don't have to worry about child care costs and they cry in your office because they're struggling and they don't know what else to do. That's the reason I do it, to help these families."
For additonal questions regarding the Center or the scholarship, please call the UNOCCC at 402.554.3398.
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