Quality early childhood education (ECE) is a key component of strong communities. It establishes a foundation for healthy growth and development benefiting families, neighborhoods, communities, and beyond. However, research and community engagement consistently show that there are thousands of children in Michigan communities who lack access to quality ECE.
In Grand Rapids, for example, a 2018 IFF study found that only 16% of children aged birth to two had access to licensed and registered providers. And while a subsequent 2020 analysis showed improvement in some communities, significant need remains in key Grand Rapids neighborhoods.
IFF’s Learning Spaces program aims to improve access to quality ECE by recognizing the key role facilities play in supporting early childhood education. The program offers grant funding and technical assistance to childcare providers to improve and enhance facilities. Since its 2016 launch in Detroit, supported by The Kresge Foundation, IFF has invested more than $3.5 million in ECE facilities, serving more than 3,200 Detroit children.
Last year, with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Learning Spaces program expanded to Grand Rapids to address the gap in ECE access prevalent in the city’s Southeast neighborhoods. Leveraging CDFI Disability Funds, the program also layered in support to ensure learning environments were designed to be responsive to all children’s needs—including those with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities. Since expanding Learning Spaces into Grand Rapids, IFF has provided $230,000 to 10 providers, with an expected additional investment of $100,000 through 2022—serving a total of 78 children with an additional estimated growth of 30 slots.
Below, five of the first seven providers that participated in Learning Spaces Grand Rapids reflect on the facilities improvements they were able to complete through the program.
Aubrey Horan – The Yellow Butterfly Daycare
Click on the image below to view photos of Aubrey Horan’s The Yellow Butterfly Daycare before renovations were completed through the Learning Spaces program.
Click on the image below to view photos of Aubrey Horan’s The Yellow Butterfly Daycare after renovations were completed through the Learning Spaces program.
Aubrey Horan runs the Yellow Butterfly Daycare, which primarily serves lower income families and single mothers. After feeling like she had a village to help care for her child, she decided to open a daycare to be able to provide to families like her own as a way to pay it forward.
“I bought this huge, old house, it was basically condemned when I bought it and I’ve done most of the renovations myself. I’ve been running the daycare for about 10 years now, and there’s some structural things that have been on my to-do list, but for one reason or another I wasn’t able to get to. Mainly, having a bathroom on the main level, but in this huge house the only bathroom was up on the second floor. Potty training toddlers and having to walk up a staircase for 10 years is definitely a burden to say the least. So, having a bathroom on the main floor is life changing.
In the room that’s adjacent to the bathroom, I had old plaster and drywalls. The plaster was really caving in, so I had been patching where I could, but it was getting to the point where it really needed to come down. So, we completely tore that room down to the studs, drywalled it, and ran all new electrical, wonderful lighting. It’s now our art room. Not only that, but we did a lot of other electrical work, such as updating it to bring me up to code for safety.”
When asked about participating in Learning Spaces, Aubrey said, “The meetings were really cool. It was a lot of information that I didn’t already know as far as the financing information and leadership classes.”
Betty Dyson – The Betty Dyson Child Care Group Home
Click on the image below to view photos of Betty Dyson’s Child Care Group Home before renovations were completed through the Learning Spaces program.
Click on the image below to view photos of Betty Dyson’s Child Care Group Home after renovations were completed through the Learning Spaces program.
Betty Dyson runs the Betty Dyson Child Care Group Home, which serves twelve infants and toddlers in Kent County, Grand Rapids.
“I love my job. I’m in the business because I have a passion to care for kids. I had a big house and I knew I had to get some kids in here to drive my joy, so I went into child care and took care of five kids. Then, I expanded to a group home, which is twelve kids, and it’s been a blessing ever since.
We put in a new lighting system, which is to bring in brighter lighting for the kids so they can learn. Then we did new flooring, installed new air conditioning and ventilation, and a new bathroom – which includes cabinets and toilet tissue holders. Outside we did yard work, which included wood chips, and we put a beautiful black fence in the backyard so that the kids can’t go over to the egress window, because that was their favorite place to go bounce the ball. So now we got a fence around it and they’re unable to go back there, which is safe.”
When asked about why facilities are important to childcare, Betty said, “They help make a safe environment for the kids to be in and it is important we have the proper things so that the kids can learn and grow from.”
Evalina Jorge – The Evalina Jorge Child Care Group Home
Click on the image below to view photos of Evalina Jorge’s Child Care Group Home before renovations were completed through the Learning Spaces program.
Click on the image below to view photos of Evalina Jorge’s Child Care Group Home after renovations were completed through the Learning Spaces program.
Evalina Jorge runs the Evalina Jorge Child Care Group Home, serving 12 infants and toddlers, and has been a child care provider for 13 years.
“I loved the program! We were approved for a $35,000 grant, and that was how we repaired everything in my basement. We replaced everything with new parts. We had excellent personnel, workers, and construction workers here, all of them were extremely respectful and very nice, and they did very beautiful work.
We remodeled everything in the basement. We painted, changed the carpet, and made a beautiful kitchen, which was not there before. This space was nothing more than bedrooms – the basement was a place to sleep. We painted the bathroom, completely. We also installed a ramp so that the parents and children can enter without any problems. In other words, if we put the day care in the basement, we have to go upstairs for children and come back down, and this is a lot. If they come through the front, then they only have to bring them to the door, which is different.”
When asked about the impact the renovations have had, Evalina said, “There are a lot of people who have come to see the space and are pleased, because they had already seen how this was before. Now everyone is delighted, in other words, everyone wants to participate in the program, and that is very good.”
Katherine Figueroa Guzman – KFG Child Care
Click on the image below to view photos of Katherine Figueroa Guzman’s KFG Child Care before renovations were completed through the Learning Spaces program.
Click on the image below to view photos of Katherine Figueroa Guzman’s KFG Child Care after renovations were completed through the Learning Spaces program.
Katherine Figueroa Guzman and her husband run KFG Child Care, which serves 12 infants and toddlers. They run the child care as a family and the children they take care of are “like part of the family.”
“Through the program, we completely changed the floor and painted all the walls in the area that we use to take care of children. We changed the fans and the security gate, which we urgently needed, and it has been wonderful. The space looks completely different. The kitchen also looks almost new, and the space feels nicer, because the color of the walls was changed to a warmer color. We also painted the toy room with flashy colors for the children. And we could also reorganize absolutely everything regarding the daycare and could make changes, clean, and all of that stuff. Now we feel more comfortable and the children are happy, they can continue to play and learn comfortably.”
When asked what Learning Spaces has meant for her, Katherine said, “This type of help is excellent for providers, and also for parents, and therefore for children. We are very happy and grateful.”
Teresa James – The Teresa James Child Care Group Home
Click on the image below to view photos of Teresa James’ Child Care Group Home before renovations were completed through the Learning Spaces program.
Click on the image below to view photos of Teresa James’ Child Care Group Home after renovations were completed through the Learning Spaces program.
Teresa James runs the Teresa James Child Care Group Home in Southeast Grand Rapids and has been a childcare provider for over 20 years.
“The Learning Spaces grant helped us with our storage space. Originally, we had carpeting, and we were able to turn that into hardwood floors, which gave us the opportunity to bring our eating area all into one space, which is great. We also brightened up the place because we had kind of dry paint and our trim was brown, now it’s white which makes it really bright. Overall, it gave us an enhanced, bright, happy space.”
When asked about how she learned about Learning Spaces, Teresa said, “I originally learned about the grant through the Great Start to Quality program. Laurel told me about the Learning Spaces grant and I thought it would be awesome for us to take advantage of.”
Click here to learn more about IFF’s Learning Spaces program, which provides grants to home- and center-based early education providers in Detroit and Grand Rapids to renovate and upgrade their facilities.