It takes special people to enter early childhood professions, John Schaefferkoetter told about 130 child care providers Tuesday night.
It takes extra special people to commit to that work for a lifetime, he continued.
Schaefferkoetter, the development director at the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City, was the keynote speaker for the inaugural Early Childhood Appreciation Dinner, hosted by Early Childhood Community Leaders (organized with the Missouri Department of Childhood and the Department Elementary and Secondary Education) and the United Way of Central Missouri Early Childhood Initiative. Participants were from Cole, Osage, Moniteau and Miller counties.
United Way Vice President Theresa Verslues said people typically recognize teachers in early May. She said those gathered for the event at the Fraternal Order of Eagles, Aerie 2693, in Jefferson City, were all early childhood professionals -- educators, teachers and preschool teachers.
"We just want to celebrate them," Verslues said. "These ladies work hard. All these ladies that work in early childhood work hard. We really appreciate them. This is about them."
The groups provided dinners for the professionals, and a variety of door prizes offered by local businesses.
Early childhood care is generally considered birth to kindergarten. The United Way has supported early childhood programs for more than 15 years.
The leadership team consists of Verslues; Angie Bax, associate director of the YMCA Child Development Center; Shauna Kerperin, with Parents as Teachers; and Beth Parrish, a teacher at St. George School in Linn. Each of the members offers different expertise in early childhood programs. For example, Parrish is responsible for paperwork, newsletters and data.
Kerperin, who is considered the leader of the leadership team, said one of the biggest barriers communities have to growth is that child care facilities have closed recently. And, she said, even if they were able to stay open, staffing remains a challenge.
Providers struggled to overcome the "... problem with workforce," she said. "And getting providers to come into the early childhood space. That's one of our initiatives, is building that workforce back up."
She said the leaders wanted to show the workforce appreciation.
"We wanted to do this to show our appreciation for all the work that they do in helping as they grow our littles and have them safe and ready for school," Kerperin said. "Help celebrate the work that they're doing."
She pointed out that several women in the group are graduating from Nichols Career Center this year, with goals of working in early childhood development.
"We're wanting to celebrate them," she said. "And hopefully keep them in the early childhood field for years to come."
Julie Schmitz, director of Show-Me Child Care Center, said St. Mary's Hospital has offered to let the center use one of its parking lots for two Kite Days for preschool age children on May 16-17.
Schmitz went on a tour of the hospital.
"They've got outside space. They've got inside space to offer us," Schmitz said. "So we're going to go out there and do a picnic lunch. They've got a nice water fountain they're going to put some rubber ducks in and let the kids fish out of it. They've got a parking lot they will block off and let the kids have a Kite Day."
Parents have donated kites and the center is "ready to roll."
Paula Benne of CMS Business Services, the co-chair of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce Workforce Coalition, said the workforce identified child care as a top need for the community. Because of that, the chamber brought Verslues and Kerperin to provide more information about child care in the community, Benne said.
"Where does the business community start with this project? Bring in those that are already there," she said. "It rocketed us into finding ways to partner businesses with child care centers."
They decided to expand the "Partners in Education" program -- which engages students and teachers with local businesses to offer support in classrooms -- to include child care centers.