Cooperative project brings new infant care to LB

Prospective toddler client Azalie Bahrt plays in the newly remodeled Small Song Childcare building with investor Fred Dust. The child care facility has recently opened to the public. DAMIAN MULINIX photo

LONG BEACH - "Really, this is a place of childhood, not just a child care facility," said Luke Miller recently of the newly remodeled Small Song Childcare [formerly Rainy Day Care].

Miller, along with her friend and colleague Fred Dust, invested the majority of the funds that went into fixing the place up, with Miller taking over as the owner/operator.

Small Song Childcare opened five years ago as a child care facility for the teen parents at Tlohon-nipts Alternative School, where Dust is principal. This was particularly convenient as the building is located just across the fence from the building which housed the alternative school up until this school year.

"We varied in the district, having up to eight teen moms, sometimes it's two and sometimes it's one - we never know," said Dust, who explained they filled out their enrollment with other children from the community.

After a year, the district passed the reins of running the daycare to the local Foursquare church, which operated the child care facility until midway through last school year. It was at that time Dust started looking for an answer - he found Miller.

A former school teacher with seven years experience with infants and toddlers, Miller was most recently teaching at Star of the Sea School in Astoria and has run her own preschool in the past.

"I'm really interested in early childhood," she said.

And with the investment of time and funds, Miller has really made a commitment to the project.

"When the church decided [to no longer sponsor the daycare] we had a decision to make," said Dust. "Of course, having the child care adjacent to the school - I didn't know we were going to be moving at that point - it was a matter of understanding that we not only need child care but we probably need child development courses. We need parent training - these kids don't come with owner manuals."

Dust said the idea was to have a small center that is very personal and can really connect with the needs of its clients.

"We know that with the proper support, teen moms can be wonderful parents," said Dust. "Without that connection between school and child care, terrible things can happen."

Teen parents receive aid from the state to pay for child care, which Dust and Miller help them with. They have also continued with some of those parents once high school is over and they become enrolled in community college.

As the time for the remodel arrived, Dust and Miller also put on their handyman hats, doing the majority of the work themselves, including installation of an infrared heating system which is attached near the top of the walls away from the reach of little children; fixing the plumbing and installing four new sinks and a toddler-sized toilet; adding an access ramp to the entryway; and putting down new flooring and carpet. Dust and Miller started some of the work last spring, with the bulk of it taking place between July and September.

And now that they are all-licensed and ready to go, Small Song Childcare is looking for some clients. They are aiming for an enrollment of four infants and seven toddlers.

Miller explained her goal for how the facility will run, saying it will be a place where "children have a nice, sweet, quiet day. Where they really do things that children should be doing, not in big large groups." For one thing, she said she will be offering a lot of arts and craft projects.

"All the noisy, messy things children should do," said Miller. "Lots and lots of stories read to them. I envision it as if the children were at home."

Right now they have no children enrolled, having just opened in the last few weeks. There are currently no teen parents at Tlohon-nipts either, although one student is expecting twins any time. Dust said they wanted to make sure everything was perfect before they opened.

Children from one month to five years old will have ample room to play and learn, including a room marked especially for music, with several plastic tubs filled with instruments. Miller plans on having music playing most of the time, symphonic and even sounds from other countries. One thing you won't find is a single television set - which is by design.

"I am very adamant about children not sitting and watching TV or videos," said Miller. "I think children should be read to, should be talked to, should be played with."

Small Song Childcare will be holding an open house for prospective clients on Sunday, Dec. 14, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. It is located just off the street on Washington St., next door to Oman and Sons. They charge $25 a day for infants and $21 a day for toddler and preschool age children. They are offering a special for new enrollees that includes a month of free child care - one week deducted from the cost of the first four months. They offer lunch and two snacks for the children during the 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. business hours, with lunch costing $1.50 per meal. For more information call, 642-7040.

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