Sisters Country Vision spotlight: childcare and food security
Last updated 11/3/2021 at Noon
The Sisters Country Vision Implementation Team (VIT) reconvened in September, adding several new members and beginning the process of building a new work plan for the upcoming year. This month, we are celebrating vision-aligned projects that focus on local childcare options and food security. As always, there are opportunities for any interested community members to get involved!
Sisters Country parents (and grandparents!) know that finding childcare has been a challenge for years, and it has only gotten more difficult to access for many families since the onset of COVID-19. Citizens4 Community (C4C) organized a Let’s Talk! on Monday, October 18, to discuss the current barriers to expanded childcare in Sisters Country and alternative models for community-led options.
Karen Prow, director of NeighborImpact Child Care Resources, along with Brenda Comini, director of the Central Oregon Early Learning Hub, gave a short overview of the regional state of childcare and some of the challenges that are affecting Sisters Country.
Participants learned that of all six incorporated Central Oregon communities, Sisters lags behind only Bend in need.
The most critical need by far is for infant care, or ages up to two.
We also learned that Sisters currently has no in-home childcare businesses, a sector of providers that has seemingly become less viable as property values and rental costs in Sisters Country have increased.
Also impacting providers is the difficulty of recruiting applicants for positions as early learning teachers and assistants, and the significant challenge of paying a competitive wage while still covering other overhead costs including rent, insurance, and certification.
Jennifer Holland, executive director of Sisters Park & Recreation District (SPRD) discussed some on-the-ground challenges. SPRD is the largest local provider of childcare, although their programs are all for children over two years. With COVID, SPRD has experienced a serious staffing crunch.
“The problem right now is not even getting qualified applicants, it’s getting any applicants at all” for SPRD’s open early learning positions, shared Holland. Workforce woes are forcing SPRD to consider cutting some childcare slots this year, which would be a serious blow to local parents. SPRD currently has a waitlist as long as the total number of available slots, and still growing.
The final two panelists offered some hope and creative solutions. Alejandra Cerda is the owner of a
new bilingual childcare center called Estrellitas.
Becca Ellis is director of the nonprofit ReVillage, a co-op childcare center. Both centers are located in Bend, and both opened during
COVID. Estrellitas offers a sustainable model for in-home care, by keeping numbers low and focusing on part-time care for working families.
ReVillage trains family members to serve as teaching aides to help keep costs very affordable.
Both centers operate on a whole-family model, meaning that siblings of different ages can stay together, and eliminating the need for parents to drive to multiple locations each day.
On Oct. 22, Deschutes County announced $6.6 million in funding for childcare expansion, including funds to bring a new ReVillage center to Sisters! If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, email Linda Cline at [email protected]
Another local challenge highlighted by COVID is food access and food security. A group of volunteers has come together to move a community conversation forward, through a successful grant to the Oregon Food Bank’s FEAST program. The Sisters Food Security Committee, supported by fiscal sponsor the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance (HDFFA), has been awarded a $5,000 grant! From the organizers:
“Our goal with this grant would be to engage and connect with a larger and more diverse group of folks in the Sisters Country community. We will connect with and listen to those who are experiencing food insecurity, as well as bring awareness to the issue among those who are not directly impacted. It is important to us that community members understand how food insecurity affects community health as a whole. We are also interested in the larger question of how food can be a community building tool, bringing people together instead of contributing to inequities.”
The group is actively looking for community members to join a leadership team, which will help to map out a community food needs assessment and plan a community conversation. If you’re interested in learning more or joining the leadership team, email Elizabeth Kirby at [email protected]
To learn more about the Sisters Country Vision visit http://www.sistersvision.org.