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Child care provider continues scramble to recover from tornado

Child care provider continues scramble to recover from tornado

June 11th, 2019 by Joe Gamm in Local News

Mark Wilson/News Tribune Lakaisha McCaleb plays a game with kids in her charge while talking about the challenges she faces getting her business back up and running Friday at her mother's house.

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The mother/daughter partners who own and operate Joy and Gladness Children's Academy — a 24-hour day care center in Jefferson City — are looking for a little help.

LaKaisha McCaleb and her mother, Arlesa Saunders-Mason, continue to care for several children in Saunders-Mason's home, but can't operate quite like their business, which served 78 children.

Like so many other people affected by the May 22 EF-3 tornado that ripped through part of eastern Jefferson City, their lives have been uprooted.

The storm's 160-mph winds heavily damaged the academy at 511 E. McCarty St. The building has been condemned, and its owner, from whom the women leased, has told them it is to be torn down.

Now, they are searching for a location where they might continue to serve their clients.

Saunders-Mason's home is the business' temporary location. It once provided the site where the business started, back in 2002. But the women were both younger and had fewer responsibilities — and fewer clients.

And, in recent years, despite feeling that the children she cares for are part of her family, her home was where Saunders-Mason found respite.

"I'm used to doing it — working with the kids that I'm missing — outside the house," she said. "But it's kind of like making me a little tired."

When the women decided to begin a child care facility, they wanted it to be close to Lincoln University so they could provide a convenient place for students who couldn't afford to take their children to other locations. They already were serving a lot of Lincoln students, McCaleb said.

One client was a mother who became distressed because she was preparing to drop out of school. She had to work evenings and couldn't find anyone to care for her child.

"She didn't have people to care for her children during evening time," McCaleb said. "We decided to expand our hours."

The women worked in shifts and hired part-time help to fill in once in a while.

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It wasn't long before other parents, struggling to find child care that fit their hours, began to approach the women.

A number of parents, whose providers required children to be picked up by 5 p.m., had been charged late fees when they didn't arrive in time, McCaleb said.

"We had a lot of parents spending a lot of extra money on late fees. They would accumulate late fees daily," she said.

The expanded hours at Joy and Gladness worked for the clients. And the business grew.

The women looked for a bigger place and found the McCarty Street location. It has worked well for them for years.

McCaleb was even in the process of negotiating a purchase of the building and had been approved when the tornado struck.

"We were negotiating. It had a lot of things that needed to be done," McCaleb said. "We were going back and forth."

The owners of the building likely will not rebuild, she said. Even if they did rebuild, the need for a facility is immediate, she added.

"We would like to stay in this location. It serves a lot of Lincoln students," she said. "I've been negotiating to buy the land."

For the immediate future, the women are searching for a suitable space for their business. One church has offered to allow the service to use its structure during the summer — a possible short-term solution. The women will see if the church will be a good fit for their needs.

"We've been taking it day by day," McCaleb said. "We continue asking the public — do they know someone with a building? Do they know places to find other funding?"

The women have started a GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/help-us-rebuild-joy-and-gladness-children-academy

The page explains the child care center family has gone through a disaster, the tornado had destroyed the center and insurance was inadequate to rebuild, and families are depending on it to provide 24-hour care.

The page has a goal of raising $40,000. As of Monday, it had raised $1,185.

McCaleb attended the Multi-Agency Resource Center in Jefferson City a week ago. The center — considered a one-stop shops for all resources a disaster victim may need — provided disaster victims access to more than 30 agencies and organizations. It was intended to help people affected by disasters to receive resources and move into recovery mode by providing community relief as easily as possible.

Unfortunately, the resource center wasn't helping small businesses at the time, McCaleb said. She received a list of other small businesses to contact and was told area chambers of commerce may be able to help her.

The women worry about the clients they serve.

McCaleb said 90 percent of the organization's clients were subsidized. She has referred them to other child care centers. But most can't afford other facilities' rates.

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And she would give her clients family discounts. That is something most other facilities probably aren't willing to do, she said.

The women heaped praise on the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City for opening its doors to victims of the tornado and helping to ease the sudden demand on area child care services.

The Boys & Girls Club usually charges about $35 per week for each child who attends, according to Executive Director Stephanie Johnson. Those fees are waived for all families who are victims of the tornado.

During the summer staff, who can watch over the displaced children (those entering first grade through sixth grade), are at the club during the day while their parents deal with the after effects of storm.

"If you are trying to figure out what you are going to do with what is left of your home, we want you to have a place to take your kids," Johnson said.

The Boys & Girls Club is a child-friendly place that gives children a sense of security.

"We've got close to 20 families that are utilizing our services so far," Johnson said. "We get more and more every day."

And club administrators understand that anyone who's lost their home is likely to also have lost their vehicle in the storm — so it is providing free transportation for the children.

"One family — the mom lost everything. Right now, the child is going to summer school and her grandmother is picking her up (afterward)," Johnson said. "Once summer school is over, we'll pick her up."

Also, when the children attend the club, they get a light breakfast, hot lunch, afternoon snack and hot dinner.

A couple of businesses have stepped forward to underwrite the cost of expanding services to the children, Johnson said.

"This is our neighborhood that was hit," she said. "We were literally one block from the tornado.

"There are kids here who have lost everything. It's amazing to me how resilient these kids are."