Casey Joyner and her 4-year-old daughter Faith were living in a local motel when she suddenly found herself unemployed.
Without a steady income, Joyner was faced with the prospect of having to pull Faith out of daycare at Primeros Pasos in Georgetown, making her own search for a new job even trickier.
“I told them what had happened and they provided me with a scholarship that allowed Faith to continue coming to school here until I could find a new job,” Joyner said. “They helped me out a lot, and I was able to find a job at Perdue and save up some money to move.”
Sally Beaumont, president of the daycare’s 11-member board of directors, said helping families in difficult financial situations is exactly why Primeros Pasos was founded in 1996.
“Our mission is to serve the underserved and low-income residents of the Georgetown area by helping provide them with some of the tools they need so their children can get an early education, while allowing them some freedom to work and improve their situation,” she said.
Now the daycare that currently provides bilingual child care to 18 children between the ages of 2 and 5 in the basement of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on East Pine Street is hoping to receive some assistance from the community it has been serving for 17 years.
Late last year, Primeros Pasos, which in English means ‘first steps,’ launched a capital/sustainabilty campaign to raise the $1.3 million it needs to open a new 6,500-square-foot facility on a 1.5-acre property on Savannah Road.
So far, the daycare has raised about $350,000 through federal and private grants and a series of fundraisers.
“St. Paul’s has been exceptional to us, but we have no room for expansion here,” Beaumont said. “When we started, we had infant care, which we haven’t been able to provide in the last four years because of those space restrictions.”
Primeros Pasos currently owns the land on Savannah Road, where it operated the daycare from 2007 to 2009, and recently received a trio of donated trailers previously used as modular classrooms at Polytech High School near Dover.
Beaumont said the majority of the funding the daycare is seeking would be used to connect the trailers into a single structure capable of holding up to 69 students between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 years. The new facility also would include a large playground and space to hold parent training sessions, workshops and family gathering.
“In recent years, we’ve received grants that have allowed us to hold classes for parents, including an English class for our Hispanic parents that is very popular,” Primeros Pasos’ director Maria Joseph said. “About 50 percent of our children are Hispanic and our staff teaches in both English and Spanish to give those students a head start learning the language before they reach school age.”
Joseph said many of the daycare’s Hispanic students are the children of single mothers whose husbands have been deported, a circumstance with which she can personally relate.
“My mother was deported when I was six years old and she chose to leave me behind with my godparents because she didn’t want me to grow up in Mexico,” Joseph said. “When I started school, I didn’t speak any English and I ended up being held back in the second grade because of it. Part of what we’re doing here at Primeros Pasos is trying to make sure these kids don’t face those same struggles.”
Although the daycare charges $135 a week for its service, most of the families it serves pay only a portion of that cost, with the remainder covered by the Delaware Division of Social Services’ income-eligible Purchase of Care Child Assistance program.
In anticipation of the enrollment expansion planned in conjunction with its new facility, Primeros Pasos’ board of directors is currently working with the state’s STARS for Early Success Program to expand the tuition costs covered by the state, Beaumont said.
About $450,000 of the total funding the daycare is attempting to raise would be placed in an endowment fund to further assist families in need and hire another 14 teachers and staff members to handle the added enrollment, Beaumont said.
Georgetown resident Mayda Velasquez said Primeros Pasos has been a life saver for her and she believes the daycare could help others in the Hispanic community with its new facility.
“I am single and have three girls, all of whom have attended school here,” she said. “Because I had somewhere for my girls to go, I have been able to go back to school to earn my high school diploma and recently started my own business, KEA Cleaning Services. I know there are other people like me who need a daycare like this and I look forward to them opening their new location.”
Beaumont said Primeros Pasos hopes to open its new Savannah Road location at the start of 2014.
“A lot of it still depends on money,” she said. “Our plan is to take our show on the road in the coming months and make appeals to local residents, churches and civic groups.”