Last year, Zero to Five Montana and the Montana Cooperative Development Center launched the Montana Community Child Care Innovations Pilot to help employers and community partners across the state develop innovative community child care solutions.
Pilot participant Vaughn Zenko, executive director of the Eastern Montana Economic Development Authority & Southeast Montana Area Revitalization Team, recognized that a lack of licensed or registered child care providers in the Baker area was an economic drain on the community.
Zenko said the pilot opportunity allowed him to reinvigorate the Baker/Fallon County community’s interest in the need for child care and that momentum helped them launch a successful grassroots effort to get a citizen-initiated bond to fund a child care/community center on the ballot for the November 2022 election.
“When the pilot project began, I had a project that had been dormant for almost two years and a preliminary architectural review for a massive facility with no funding,” Zenko said. “Now I’ve got a child care project board, a group of volunteers, donations coming in, a business plan and the very real possibility that this becomes a reality, all in less than a year since we partnered with Zero to Five.”
Grant funds from the pilot program allowed Zenko to conduct feasibility studies and surveys, hold fundraisers, create election materials and hire an attorney for consultation. Through public awareness events, Zenko said the issue got on the Fallon County Commission’s radar – that spurred the idea for bond initative and they secured the signatures needed.
If the bond passes, Fallon County will go from zero available licensed child care slots to 96.
“Everything I’ve learned from the pilot project has set us up with a solid cooperative-based business model, a good community center to help generate income and make the facility financially self-sustainable, a partnership with the school district and hospital for additional resources, and several people who have already reached out who’d like to work at the facility if it gets built,” Zenko said.