The long story of Precious Beginnings Children Center began with a need: A majority of children in some Des Moines neighborhoods were turning up for Kindergarten unprepared to start school.

“We basically identified that if we were going to change the trajectory for these kids, we had to get them into child care,” said Philip Herman, pastor at Highland Park Community Church, noting a longtime lack of quality, nearby options for working parents.

“If we don’t do child care right, if we don’t prepare these kids for the next step in their lives, which is school, then we end up with kids that aren’t prepared for school and never catch up,” he said. “We end up with people who go out into the world and don’t have employable skills.”

Efforts to attack that problem contributed to formation of the Highland Park Community Development Association (a separate, community-focused nonprofit) and a broad fundraising campaign that raised $200,000 for initial renovation work on a building in north Des Moines. Renovations eventually stalled due to expensive concerns about fire safety. But a combined $572,000 in grants last year from the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Future Ready Iowa Child Care Challenge Fund helped provide the first phase of what was needed to open the center’s first three classrooms.

Precious Beginnings Children’s Center opened its doors last fall in a still-being-renovated building. When the final phase of the project is finished this summer, Highland Park will have a total of 75 new child care slots.

“That’s where Iowa Workforce Development funds were a game changer for us,” Herman said. “My estimate is that the state’s grants sped this up by three years. We’d still be waiting without that money.”

“It was badly needed, and raising money is always difficult – especially as we come out of the pandemic,” said Des Moines City Councilwoman Linda Westergaard, who Herman described as an advocate for the program. “Child care is a real issue. Hopefully, what they’re doing will alleviate some pressures on the families there.”

Click here for more information on child care grants awarded by Future Ready Iowa.