Whitehall-Coplay Press

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Faith ends plans for extra day care

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 by PAUL CMIL Special to The Press in Local News

Tiffany Henne is one of the parents who had her children enrolled in day care at the former St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Catasauqua, and who hoped to continue her children’s early education and care at a school at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Whitehall.

The day care is now not going forward as planned, leaving parents and teachers at the school in search of child care and work.

In June, St. Paul’s church council president, Leonard Witt, announced St. Paul’s was being sold, with a closing date at the end of July. The new owner was not interested in continuing on with the day care. The parents, most of whom have had long-term relationships with St. Paul’s, wanted to continue with a faith-based day care center. The parents scrambled to find a suitable locale to relocate.

The options were few considering the tight time frame, but each was checked out. With each review and analysis, the gaps narrowed to a few suitable alternatives. The group finally hit on a combination that seemed to work. Faith Lutheran Evangelical Church not only had the space and parking but had experience with day care.

As president of Faith Lutheran’s church council, Mike Miller is no stranger to helping people in need.

“I learned a lot about the process trying to put this together,” he said. “We have several successful programs that minister to the community.”

The first step was to get the Lutheran synod to approve the plan for Faith Lutheran to expand. Parents wanted a faith-based program, and the church wanted to make the program a learning experience, not just a place for babysitting.

After the synod approved the plan, the church needed to get approval from Whitehall Township Zoning Hearing Board even though the church had an existing day care center.

While the church was confident it would receive approval for the expanded day care, it still had to go through the process. The first attempt before the board failed to take place because the board had too many issues to address on the scheduled night. Members pushed the decision one month.

The delay was critical because opening at the start of the new school year was in jeopardy.

With a yes decision from the zoning board in hand, Faith Lutheran swung into action. It expanded existing smoke alarms, reviewed security measures and set up plans for the new center. Faith Lutheran never had infants and toddlers housed in day care, so it needed separate facilities. Infants needed to be separated from the older students and students from an existing day care program.

With each passing day, the goal to open by the school year became murkier. The plus part was the sale of the church was delayed, which gave the day care center much-needed time to plan for a move.

The state also needs to get into the act when day care facilities are proposed. The request to the state came back as incomplete.

The delay from the state meant there would not be day care available for the new school year, and there was no guaranteed time frame when day care would open. Parents needed to make alternative arrangements.

During this time, teachers and care providers worked tirelessly to set up rooms for opening day.

Church council, when they looked at the basic plans and approved the concept, was looking for at least 38 students in day care to have the facility break even. Then they needed to expand.

The failure to meet the deadline for school’s opening day had parents enrolling children in other day care centers. There was a no indication the expanded day care facility was going to come near the break-even point.

Miller pulled the plug after all the effort everyone put into the new facility.

“I feel that I have let people down that counted on us. That is not part of our faith. We are here to help the community. In our mission statement, we proclaim that we are an open and caring community,” he said.

As he explained, he cannot risk taking the church down because the day care center would be a cash drain.

Miller has not given up on the project, but he is leaving as head of church council.

He determined it should be up to the next council to analyze how expanded day care fits into the church’s mission of serving the community.

“This was a lot more here than I ever expected. Council now has a better handle on what needs to happen to make day care viable,” Miller said.

For Henne and the parents from St. Paul’s day care, this is a heartbreaking development. They want to see their children treated as individuals in a faith-based day care center, not as numbers that get reimbursement from the state. They are now back to the starting point and are frustrated on how to move forward.