Focused on early childhood

Small Wonder restructuring to better address community needs
By 
Charlie Denison
Senior Reporter
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
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Small Wonder Child Care board members and administrators gather in front of the entrance on W. Broadway Street. Standing (from left) Board President Rebecca Roche, Director of Operations Kylie Downs, parent representative Karly DeMars, Board Treasurer Christine Durbin, community representative Bryan Gatz, Director of Finance Amanda Kolar and curriculum mentor Wendy Ward. Kneeling (from left) Board Secretary Amy d’Autremont and Board Vice President Amber Davis.
Photo by Charlie Denison

A community can only flourish when its children are thriving.
That is the philosophy of Small Wonder’s Board of Directors, and – in order for them to keep making this a reality – they need help from the Central Montana community.
“We rely on a variety of funds to make this program work,” said Small Wonder Board President Rebecca Roche. “This includes parent fees, elective quality incentive money and low-cost church rental space. The remaining funds are made up of grants and donor money. Without community support we cannot keep the doors open, we can’t grow and we can’t address the childcare need in our community.”
Small Wonder has been part of the Lewistown community for more than 30 years, Roche said.
The program provides early childhood education, preschool and after-school programs to 190 children each year. Teachers provide more than 55 hours of weekly services to 132 local families with children ages six weeks to 12 years old.
The non-profit has recently restructured and now operates under two directors: Kylie Downs, Director of Operations and Amanda Kolar, Director of Finance.
“It was too big of a job for one person,” said Roche. “There are just under 40 employees, and to have a director managing all those people as well as the finances just wasn’t doable anymore.”
Downs is enjoying doing her part to move Small Wonder forward.
“I’ve done the teaching aspect and now I’m doing more work behind the scenes, working with the state and working on the childcare issue in the community,” she said.

There are many others in the community helping with this effort, including the Fergus County Port Authority, which recently reported that a lack of available childcare is stifling business growth and preventing many from returning to work after having children or moving to the area in search of employment. Small Wonder hopes to expand and make room for these potential workers moving to the area, but they have their own struggles, as well.
“Childcare organizations are susceptible to historically low profit margins and high employee turnover rates,” Roche said. “The majority of childcare organizations cannot generate revenue to afford capital costs for expansion or a new building. Cities require partnerships between childcare providers, school districts, transit and large organizations to meet the community childcare needs.”
When asked about the biggest misconceptions about Small Wonder, Downs said, “Many think of Small Wonder simply as a daycare, but we are so much more. Our focus is early childhood education. Every classroom is staffed with trained teachers, many of whom hold Bachelors or Associate degrees in early childhood education. Each of Small Wonder’s classrooms follows a structured curriculum that emphasizes learning through play. The first five years of a child’s life are marked by expansive brain development and the events experienced in those first years are extremely influential to a child’s overall development.”
Another misconception, according to Roche, is that Small Wonder only affects families with young children.
“Small Wonder plays an invaluable role providing early childhood education during this critical developmental period by promoting a safe environment, establishing a love of learning, teaching healthy habits and developing soft skills,” she said. “Children who attend high-quality preschool programs are less likely to need special education or be held back and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college, which contributes to a healthier and higher quality of life.”
Roche said she hopes the people of Central Montana recognize that an investment in early childhood education is an investment in their community.
“We all benefit when children grow up with quality educational programs,” Roche said.
Small Wonder tries to do this in the most cost-effective way possible, Roche added.
“We try very hard to be affordable but unfortunately parent fees alone do not pay our bills. New state childcare regulations recently increased the amount of training required for teachers and reduced the teacher-to-student classroom ratios. These changes have caused significant financial strain on the organization. We really need people to recognize we are no different than other instrumental community programs, such as the Boys and Girls Club or other local non-profit organizations, that depend on donations to achieve budget success.”
Relying on local support lends itself to creating fundraising opportunities. “Night of Wonder,” Small Wonder’s biggest annual fundraiser, is set for Friday, April 24 at Jack’s Hangar. Previously known as the “Fam Jam,” this event will feature Kyle Shobe and the Walk ‘Em Boys, as well as a live and silent auction.
For more information or to donate, contact Small Wonder at (406) 538-8936 or email swboardofdirectors@gmail.com.

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