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Mt. Jefferson Child Development center celebrates 40 years

A drawing shows what the new Mt. Jefferson Child Development Center would look like if enough funding comes through to build a new facility. The center is currently housed in the old hospital complex that was built in the 1940s.

Originally published: Aug. 8, 2013
Last modified: Aug. 8, 2013

Heather Samudio

From its early beginnings in 1973, Mt. Jefferson Child Development Center has seen budget cuts and loss of funding, but despite those speed bumps, the center is planning a special reunion and celebration in honor of their 40 years of service to parents and children of Ashe County.

From 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, the center will host the event with free hotdogs, fixings, sides and drinks. Also planned are a 50/50 raffle, a silent auction, and games and prizes for children.

Center director Becky Goss said the staff would enjoy interacting with former students, parents, teachers, directors and board members.

“We want to catch up with them and reminisce about the past,” she added. “We also would like for our current families to attend and discuss the changes that have occurred from past to present. We also encourage future parents who are considering child care options to visit us and get to know those who have been a part of our past as well as our current patrons.”

The center’s beginnings

In the early 1970s, Glenn Hentschel, a current MJCDC board member, was a consultant to the Office of Economic Opportunity and was assigned to western North Carolina. His assignment to the area led to the formation of the center.

“We were going to do an HMO for seven western counties,” he said. “While I was there, a group of us looked at what could be the main causes of poverty in western North Carolina.

“We felt that lack of nutrition and early stimulus to children were a couple of the main reasons why there was poverty. During the first few years of a child’s life, the amount of protein they receive determines their brain growth.”

Those conclusions made by Hentschel and his team led them to write a proposal for the seven counties for child development to address nutrition and early stimulus or educational needs.

Hentschel said the funding wasn’t available through OEO, so they looked to the Appalachian Regional Commission.

ARC agreed to fund it if the group would write the proposal based on 21 counties instead of seven.

A grant from ARC came through as part of the Appalachian Day Care Program and the center opened in August of 1973, setting up operations in the old hospital complex.

The building that is home to the center was built in the late 1940s and originally housed the nurses and doctors before the hospital closed its doors in 1971.

In 1984, due to federal and state budget cuts, the center was faced with losing its funding, however, “community leaders and citizens of Ashe County protested for the Ashe County Commission to take over the funding of the center,” Goss said.

From the spring of 1984 until June 30, 2007, the county owned and operated the center.

When the county commission decided to no longer operate it, Hentschel, along with Carl Tuttle and others worked to form a nonprofit corporation for the day care.

Thriving and growing

Today, the center provides services for 100 children between the ages of six weeks and 5, offering full-day and part-time enrollment.

A board of directors governs the center’s policies and program procedures, and the center is licensed by the North Carolina Department of Human Resources Division of Child Development.

“The center has instituted many changes throughout the years,” Goss said. “As child care licensing rules and regulations have changed, our center has grown and evolved in order to maintain its five-star rating.”

MJCDC staff works with families and therapists in providing any services that a child with special needs may possess, including speech, occupational, physical and behavioral therapies.

“Our center’s staff is fully committed to a positive, caring and loving environment for each and every child on the roll,” Goss said. “Each of the staff has the common goal of furthering their education in early childhood development and we strive to be an example in our community for quality child care and for sharing community resources and events.”

Hentschel said the center has touched so many families through the years.

“The center represents an opportunity for children of working mothers or mothers who are going to school to get a good start,” Hentschel said. “It is really a center for working mothers who need a safe and healthy environment for their children. That’s what we’re founded on and we’re still trying to do that.”

The center’s future

As far as funding goes, Mt. Jefferson relies on parent fees, state subsidies and the N.C. Pre-K program. Goss said the center also implements various fundraisers, applies for grants and occasionally receives donations.

“There are no guarantees in life, and economically, times are difficult,” Goss said. “Nevertheless, our center has managed to remain a five-star facility serving families for the past six years after our funding was pulled by the county. We can only hope that this holds true for the future.”

Local residents, Sammy and Shirley Church, donated land for MJCDC to build a new childcare center on Mount Jefferson Road.

According to Vickie Young, an MJCDC board member, the current facility needs updates and a new building would provide more room. Board members and staff are hoping to raise funds to build a new home for the center.

 “We are looking for grants and other funding to assist in completing this project,” Goss said. “We are hoping to use the upcoming celebration to inform the public of our need for a new building.”

Young added that a new facility would allow the center to expand and offer more slots.

“Now is not a good time for brick and mortar grants,” Young said, but board members are hopeful that former families who were touched by the center might come forward with donations.

For more information, call the center at (336) 846-2208.

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.