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Day care parade a moment for celebrating, remembering

Health system’s child care center one month from closing

POSTED: April 18, 2014 12:04 a.m.

Heather Webb started crying in the atrium of her son’s day care as she embraced Quinsha Cheeks.

“This was the first one I left my son with,” Webb said, as the two women hugged. “She dealt with me the first day I dropped him off.”

Webb, an administrative coordinator with Northeast Georgia Health System, has enrolled her son, Hudson, at the system’s child care center for nearly two years. She was there Thursday to watch him march with his peers in a parade around the parking lot.

With the children dressed as princesses and superheroes, clashing cymbals and sticks together, the parade was held in celebration of the Week of the Young Child, a national event focused on bringing attention to early childhood education.

Fun activities were held for the kids throughout the week, like a day when they got to wear their pajamas to the center. There was also a day when they made arts and crafts; parents get to return today for a family cookout.

While the child care center has always held events to mark the national Week of the Young Child, center employees and family members are using this week to both celebrate and commemorate the center’s impending closure.

“We’re just trying to go out with a bang,” said lead pre-K teacher Kathy Sanchez. “(And) make these memories last a long time. Because we’ve all been here for so long, it’s like we’re leaving home.”

The center closes May 23 after 47 years in operation. Open 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., hospital employees on 12-hour shifts came to rely on the extra-long hours and close location for their child care needs.

Cheeks, who has worked for the center for 12 years, said she plans to spend the summer with her young daughter, then look for a job once her child enters school.

“I’m a strong believer that when God closes one door, he opens up another,” she said. “So yes, I’m going to be sad to leave the kids. I’m going to be sad to leave my family. But I think it’s going to be a better opportunity for all of us.”

Financial concerns caused hospital officials to announce in September the center would close in May, providing about seven months for families to find new options and for employees to find new jobs.

When the announcement was first made, hospital spokeswoman Melissa Tymchuk said the facility, at 1215 Jesse Jewell Parkway NE, needed serious renovations or a newer building, which would cost around $1.5 million.

“It’s something we did try to give as much lead time to our parents and staff as possible,” Tymchuk said. “We’ve worked really hard with our staff and our parents throughout this transition process to try to make it the smoothest transition possible.”

The center lost about $300,000 annually, in part because of the long hours provided to help provide for employees on 12-hour shifts.

“We were facing a $4 million cost during the next 10 years,” hospital President and CEO Carol Burrell said in September. “And we had to weigh this cost with how many of our employees were accessing that benefit.

“We are extremely proud of the dedicated staff,” Burrell added Thursday. “They have further demonstrated their excellence this year (assisting) parents and children throughout this transition.”

The parents and employees were understanding of the challenges, but were still emotional about the closure of a place where they viewed each other as family.

Webb already has a new day care lined up for her son, but it’s still an upsetting experience, she said.

“This is family,” Webb said. “They’re family. It’s devastating. These people are family. We work all day. We depend on them to raise our kids, and they do a great job.”


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