The idea materialized in 1997 in the Messiah United Methodist Church of Plymouth: Then-pastor Rollie Robinson delivered a sermon calling on the congregation to act in the face of President Clinton’s welfare reform. Women receiving benefits would be required to attend school or work, even if they had small children. “Who,” asked Robinson, in a now iconic appeal, “will take care of the children?”
At the time, the church was planning a major remodel, says congregation member Jayne Morrison. Also at the time, she says, Robinson’s wife, Shirley, was dealing with cancer. Three years later, Robinson had retired and Shirley had died. But in July 2000, a scholarship, the Shirley Robinson Memorial Fund, was in place to pay tuition at Kids Care Connection (KCC), a brand-new on-site day care and early learning program at Messiah United Methodist. The goal, then and now: that half of capacity be dedicated to low-income children. In 2015, the center celebrated its 15th anniversary with a new name: Bloom Early Learning and Childcare.
Mary Olson has been Bloom’s center director for more than a year now. Her job is to oversee children, families and staff, as well as to maintain Bloom’s extensive accreditation standards. As opposed to many other childcare and early education providers, every room at Bloom has a teacher with at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood or elementary education. Some teachers at Bloom even have master’s degrees, and teacher-to-child ratios are as low as one-to-three in the infant rooms. Bloom is licensed to care for approximately 70 children and currently serves 36 to 39 families; half of these families are assisted financially. Curricula for all children, from infant to pre-K, is influenced by a play-based philosophy. All families are expected to participate in their children’s twice-yearly parent-teacher conferences. Scholarship families have the opportunity to work with an IOCP social worker who can assist or find assistance with finances, parent education and employment.
At a private-pay rate of more than $17,000 a year for infant care, a great deal of scholarship money is being used. The waiting list for infants is more than two years long. These are some of the issues now being addressed by Bloom executive director Melissa Musliner. “The congregation hired Melissa [in June 2015] on the basis of a strategic plan that will allow us to take our mission to the next level,” says Morrison, who is also a KCC founding member.
According to Musliner, “The board adopted a five-year strategic plan to double the number of children served by 2020. Since a standing part of the plan is the goal to have 50 percent of the center’s population low-income children and 50 percent private pay, we’re going to need more scholarships.” And they’re going to need more space, too.
Musliner is gently interrupted by an older man. Excusing herself to speak with him, Musliner returns with this report: Messiah United Methodist’s Men’s Breakfast Group has dropped by to donate $500. It’s not the first of their donations. They’ve built diaper-changing stations and a listening center. Also stopping by is a father of three girls who have circulated through all of Bloom’s classes and levels: Tim Jirak, whose daughters Audrey (12) and Ayden (13) are now Bloom (or as they insist, KCC) alumni and whose 3-year-old sister Amelia currently attends Bloom. Each girl still has the quilt, handmade by members of Messiah United Methodist, given to each child as they “graduate” from the infant to the toddler rooms. Musliner cites a study by Wayzata Public Schools indicating that in extended-day kindergarten classrooms, low-income children who attended Bloom and other Caring for Kids Initiative partners scored signiﬁcantly higher on word recognition and other measures of early literacy than low-income children who did not participate. Adds Musliner, “Teachers at Gleason Lake [where many Bloom graduates very successfully perform in elementary school] have visited Bloom to see just what it is we’re doing right.”
For more information about Bloom, or for personal or corporate donations, please contact Melissa Musliner at 763.449.0600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.