Mandy Fearday, a teacher at Lighthouse Child and Family Development Center day care at the Messiah Lutheran Church entertains children. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

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This week, the Hauxeda and KY3 News are spotlighting the region's child care crisis. It is a multifaceted problem, and some local experts admit they don’t know where to start to solve it. That’s because every angle to the issue presents challenges.

The Daily Citizen is addressing one challenge at a time in what we’re calling the solutions series, in which we present the problem, some potential solutions and what might stand in the way of success.

The problem: There are empty classrooms and nursery rooms across Springfield that are filled with resources to provide day care, but not the staff to do it.

A solution: Why not neighborhood or business co-ops?

From Monday through Friday, most churches in Springfield sit empty. Jaimie Trussell, who recently became CEO of the Council of Churches of the Ozarks, looks at those and thinks, “What the heck?”

Trussell has a vision for those empty rooms becoming co-op day care centers. The churches, she said, are located where families need help — in their neighborhoods.

“You guys have nursery rooms, you have programs, you have kitchens,” she said. “You've got security, you've got Wi-Fi. You have a volunteer base.”

Trussell’s idea starts with getting buy-in from businesses. Essentially, employers would have to allow their employees to work flexible schedules, freeing up some hours of the work week for those employees to volunteer at a church-based day care co-op.

The idea may seem far-fetched, but it's not unlike the practice that became popular during the hardest days of the early pandemic, when working parents teamed up with other working parents to create “learning pods.” These pods contained a small group of children who were overseen by one parent, and the adults took turns managing the kids. This format helped working families juggle the strain of virtual learning, and freed up hours of the day when parents could focus (in a quiet house) on their career.

Melody Farabee, infant lead teacher, holds Sophie Holt, 19 months, at the Lighthouse Child and Family Development Center day care at the Messiah Lutheran Church. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Trussell said this concept of co-op day cares relieves the strain on any one individual or family.

“You don't work by yourself. You're not in charge. You're highly trained, because we have a whole team of experts here who will talk to you about best practices — conscious discipline, conscious parenting, all those things that we have all this expertise for. We can do that.”

She knows she’s simplifying as she talks about this, she said, but she also knows that there are people who can pivot to flex work, participate in providing care for their children and their neighbors’ or coworkers’ children, and remain part of the workforce instead of dropping out of it to care for just their kids.

A barrier: Buy-in — and all the other responsibilities.

Trussell said the co-op model is a long-range plan, and she has not taken the idea to businesses or churches. But the child care crisis, she said, is one of her “personal pain points” after two decades of nonprofit work. And she believes that the Council of Churches of the Ozarks can be influential in addressing it.

“What better calling than helping a community come together to care for its most vulnerable,” she said. “That's what we need to do. I'm going to do everything in my power to get that done. But it might take me more than a couple years.”

This series is published in coordination with KY3 News. Watch the evening newscasts all this week on the Ozarks CW and KY3 News, or go to their website for related coverage.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson