This fall, we’ll be opening a child care room at Salt & Light Urbana, staffed by volunteers, that will offer a safe, fun space for preschool-aged kids to play while parents volunteer, or attend a class or program on site. We’re starting small, with limited hours and resources, but we hope to grow as soon as it’s possible to offer this service during most, or even all, of our open hours. It’s not a community or staff day care; it’s not a preschool. So with such a narrow focus, it seems like a nice “extra” for volunteers, but you might wonder, is it really important?
Everyone knows that raising a child is expensive. This year, the estimated cost of raising a single child born in 2017 is just over $10,000 for expenses related directly to that child’s needs alone. And this figure only represents the costs for kids in a two-parent, two-income household—for single-parent households, child-related costs rise to more like $12,000 annually. This is particularly challenging for single parents, over 80% of whom are mothers, when the typical two-parent household brings in more than three times the income of a single-parent home. As many as 40% of the U.S. households headed by single parents are living in poverty. Many parents and families could use an extra measure of support in providing food, clothes, and all the other things their household needs. A member account at Salt & Light is an opportunity to do just that—but for parents who don’t have or can’t afford safe, reliable child care, volunteering here to earn credit for groceries, diapers, and all the clothes and shoes that kids outgrow so quickly just isn’t a possibility.
Without a child care space, we have always tried to make it possible anyway for parents to come and volunteer by bringing children with them. This has often worked all right as long as little ones are small enough to be held in a sling, or to ride in a grocery cart while a mom or dad is working. However, as soon as they are old enough to take off in their own direction, their active, curious play makes them anything but helpful to accomplishing their parents’ desired tasks. As a result, when parents come with toddlers and preschoolers, we are often required to give them volunteer jobs that allow them to be in an enclosed area, safe for their child to roam without wandering away, but separate and apart from other volunteers. This allows parents to earn the credit that helps support their families financially, but it fails to allow the opportunity to work alongside, talk to, and form relationships with others, which is an enormously important part of the benefit of membership at Salt & Light for everyone, but particularly for parents with young children, for whom isolation from other adults is already a significant issue. Without a safe place for kids to play on their own, parents can be engaged here as providers, but are still extremely limited in their opportunities to spend time with anyone other than their own child.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working at Salt & Light is the way that kids have been an integral part of our community, particularly when they have come with their parents like this to volunteer. If you’ve come for a meeting with me in my office, during which we were joined by a preschooler coloring or a toddler demanding to see the bubbles on my screen saver, you know what I mean. But if children are to be truly a part of the Salt & Light family, that means it’s necessary for us to give them the same regard that we aspire to for adults. They deserve to be in a place that is safe, that considers their needs, in which they can be the focus of attention. It’s incumbent on us to think about what will give them dignity and show them respect, and to create an environment that lets them demonstrate their capacity, build their confidence, sharpen their skills. Riding them along in a grocery cart, while it’s sometimes fun and entertaining for us, can never do this in the way they need.
Salt & Light is intended to be a place for everyone, of every age and every ability, to learn and grow. Every person’s presence is an equally important contribution to creating our community, and the community can never be complete unless we make a place for each unique, irreplaceable, individual person. For moms, dads, kids, and all of us, the child care room is one more way we continue to work toward that every day.
To donate, volunteer, or for questions about Salt & Light’s child care room, contact Child Care Coordinator Dorinda Prince at firstname.lastname@example.org.