Tiny Pateros on cusp of major early learning and child care expansion
PATEROS — One of the most vexing challenges our communities are facing is how to provide quality child care opportunities. The smaller the community, the more difficult the challenges because child care economics are so challenging.
The community of Pateros, of all places, is on the cusp of quadrupling its child care capacity through the nonprofit Pateros Treehouse Early Education Organization. The Treehouse story is a powerful case study of how a community can come together and figure out a way to address a critical community need.
For the past 24 years, Carlene Anders and her husband, Gene Dowers, have operated an in-home child care center called Activity Based Childcare (ABC), which has a reputation as a wonderful learning environment for kids. They’re ready to pass the baton to younger leaders.
Shutting down ABC would have been a disaster for working families in the Pateros area and so Anders, Dowers and a group of parents and other leaders have been working for the past few years to develop the Treehouse to build on the success of the for-profit enterprise.
Anders is mayor of Pateros and has been a leader in the wildfire recovery effort in Okanogan County. She credits that experience with helping her figure out creative ways to transition to a new nonprofit business model and access financial resources to support that effort.
The pieces have been falling into place. They bought the building for about a third of the appraised value and the board has raised $760,000 for renovations and startup capital. They’re just $20,000 shy of their funding goal. The funding estimate, which was calculated a few years ago, may not be quite enough given today’s prices for construction. But this group knows how to squeeze a dollar and also how to find creative partnerships in the community.
Anders has agreed to serve as the director for the Treehouse for the first year to help in the transition.
To meet state requirements, the building needs a lot of work and volunteers have stepped up to put sweat equity into the project, which has had the added benefit of fostering a greater sense of shared purpose in the project, Anders acknowledged.
The lion’s share of the funding, $540,000, came from the state Department of Commerce under an Early Learning Facilities Grant that was awarded this spring. That grant award wouldn’t have happened if Gebbers Farms, Apple House and Chelan Fresh hadn’t invested $110,000 to provide the local match needed.
The Treehouse also received a tremendous boost when church leaders sold them the building at virtually half price and also donated funds that will be used for scholarships.
Also significant is that the Treehouse will be operating on the same principles and with the equipment and business records of ABC. That continuity is expected to make it a much easier transition.
Anders points out that the organization has a wonderful board of directors that includes some young parents who are personally invested in the success of this effort and other leaders with educational backgrounds.
The community has benefitted in other ways from the conversion of this church to a child care facility. There was a decrepit parsonage next door. Working with local fire officials, the structure became a training ground to upgrade the skills of firefighters.
One of the things that impresses me about this effort is the amount of perseverance and resilience that have been demonstrated. When obstacles turn up, they find a way to make it happen.
This is a big commitment for board members. The terms of the state grant require the organization to provide child care for at least 20 years, Anders said.
North Central Washington has so many communities without adequate childcare. The available childcare spots are only a third of the need. The Treehouse early learning effort is an example of how we can start bridging the gap. If we believe children are our future, then we need to follow this example and find ways to expand childcare opportunities — for our children, our economy and our communities.
You can learn more about this effort and support it financially by accessing their website: paterostreehouse.com. They hope to have the new nonprofit up and running by the end of 2021.