I’ll be honest, I was concerned to raise children in Estes Park. I was married to my husband and we knew we wanted children, but I didn’t feel like Estes Park was going to be a supportive community for young families. It didn’t seem like families were thriving in our community and I didn’t know the resources available. I was nervous.
Then the flood happened.
I was pregnant and due to have a baby summer 2014. I knew if we were going to stay in Estes Park I would need to be involved in the conversations. I joined groups like Families for Estes and one of my first stops was to EVICS to learn about childcare options. They offered me a list of licensed providers and recommended for me to get on a waiting list. At that time, I hoped we would be able to hire a nanny to watch my daughter throughout the day and to help my transition back to work. Unfortunately, that fell through two weeks after the birth of my healthy daughter, Ava. I scrambled to find someone to watch her. Luckily, I had been an assistant to a preschool in town for a period. I called her to simply find out what some options may be. She offered to take her for a short period of time while I found something more long term. Since I didn’t work at an organization that provided maternity leave, I had to use as much of my sick time as allowed and was only able to stay home six weeks with my infant. At six weeks old, she was left at a licensed preschool 4 day a week. My heart broke, but I knew this was a decision I had to make for my family.
My “long term” solution was to find a neighbor that was unlicensed and watching children in their house. My daughter, 4 months old at the time, was often left in her car seat for hours at a time while older children ran around with the TV on. It still makes me cry thinking about it. I knew my child was safe, even if the environment was not ideal. I continued searching for another option.
The preschool teacher knew I was still on the search and she told me immediately when an Eagle Rock graduate had come to her looking for a nanny job. In perfect timing, my neighbor had to move and after a couple weeks of bringing my 6-month-old to work with me, I was able to have a nanny come to my house.
Our nanny was wonderful, and it was working out well, except she could not afford to live in Estes Park and I could not afford to pay her more. She felt the need to move back to California to be with family and we said goodbye to her when Ava was 12 months old.
At this time, she was able to go back to the preschool and be there full time, 5 days a week. We are so grateful for our licensed preschool and the relationships she’s built. She’s been there for 2 ½ years now.
In 2017, I had my second daughter, Eleanor. I knew the battle that was to come. I prepared, interviewed, and found a lovely home childcare provider that was perfect for our need. The provider was gracious and kind as I went back to work (this time at 3 months), she was patient as I came every 2 hours to feed her because she refused to take a bottle. I had new employment that allowed me to be more flexible and worked only 3 days a week. Unfortunately, she was unable to take my daughter anymore and at 5 months old, I was searching for another childcare provider. She is now 11 months old and she has been going to a friend who is a stay-at-home mom since then.
I know there are many parents who have similar, or worse situations than I endured. I currently work at EVICS and at least 3 times a week we have families coming in seeking resources for childcare. After going through the situation with my first child and having many friends that left town because of the difficulties in raising children here, I jumped on an opportunity to work for a nonprofit that was making a difference. I also knew I was going to have to quit my full-time job because I couldn’t find or afford two children in full time childcare. I’ve been at EVICS now for almost a year. Oftentimes I see mothers in tears because they can’t find care and they will need to quit their job, inevitably forcing their family to leave our town. There are 8 spots for infant childcare in Estes Park. You may not see parents walking into the Town Building with crying infants asking for help, but we are here. We are doing everything we can to make our lives work in this town. My personal belief is that a community of people is greatly benefitted by having a diverse community of families, working class individuals, seniors, and cultures all supporting one another.
Current Town Trustees have a difficult decision to make tonight. They must choose between four different proposed uses for the 220 4th Street facility. While to many, this is a fight for another option for space, or a preferred use of space, or additional space. For families living in Estes Park seeking childcare this may be their only option.
Although many seem to be experts in what childcare costs are, what the other options are in this town, or what future options we may have- this IS THE BEST OPTION. If we want our Town to get serious about addressing goals and objectives outlined in the 2018 Strategic Action Plan, a building owned by the town, leased at a small fee, in a safe and accessible location allows the greatest, affordable childcare option for our community members. To build a facility similar to the 220 4th Street building, it would cost upwards of $500,000. For programming to run, a provider would have to decrease costs to pay for such a building. This happens with increased parent fees and tuition and/or a decrease in pay for staff. Parents of one child in full time care pay over $8,000 per year in childcare. Are we going to ask them to pay more? A preschool teacher staff person in Estes Park makes around $14/hour, a director makes around $35,000/year. Are we going to ask them to take a pay cut? Will we have quality staff if we reduce their pay?
The original plans for the Community Center included full time, licensed childcare, but after the election, the childcare facility was eliminated due to cost (would have increased the cost of the Community Center by 1 million). Many families advocated and fought for the Community Center because of this component but were disappointed when they voted for something they so desperately needed, and it was taken away. Rather than fighting and yelling and dividing the community, they put their heads down and got back to work.
I know Town Trustees are aware of the impact and huge need for childcare in our town, I don’t doubt that. If it is possible for the town to use the space for childcare, without jeopardizing the deed restriction, I know many would choose this option. I would encourage Town Trustees to consider all options. If the deed restriction is the greatest concern, I implore them to seek additional information on how we can address that concern. The issue quickly becomes a larger issue than just that of childcare vs. senior center vs. museum. It is an issue of deed restriction and land use. We must sort this out for the future of Stanley Park. If they are unable to address the deed restriction and the risk is too high, the community will continue to put our heads down, get back to work, and seek solutions to this great need impacting so much of our workforce. We ask the Town Board and Family Advisory Board to continue to be proactive in finding solutions.