As the only child-care center in its region, Bath Community Day Care fills a critical void. Nonetheless, the operation has endured financial struggles the past couple of years.
Fortunately, St. Mary’s Parish in Bath — from which the child-care center rents space — recognized the center’s importance and recently forgave $12,000 in back rent, allowing Catholic Charities, which operates the center, to catch up on its debt.
“Right now our feeling is to support it any way we can,” said Deacon Raymond Defendorf, pastoral administrator of St. Mary’s. “We didn’t want to lose the day care, and we believe in its ministry.”
“I’m very appreciative of Ray and St. Mary’s. We were really at a difficult juncture this year,” said Laura Opelt, executive director of Catholic Charities of Steuben County, which oversees the child-care center.
Bath Community Day Care actually began as a ministry of St. Mary’s in 1990, and has been housed throughout its existence at the former parish school — now known as The Zimmer Center. As the day care continued to grow, Catholic Charities took over its operation in 1998 and signed a 10-year lease with St. Mary’s.
The center employs nine full-time and nine part-time employees, offering a variety of services year-round to children ages 6 weeks through 13 years. According to Darcy Cherry, Bath Community Day Care director, the facility’s licensed capacity is 117 children, with approximately two-thirds of that total taking part in the before- and after-school program. The center also sublets space to two government-funded programs for pre-schoolers, Universal Pre-K and Head Start.
Cherry said the center has had traditionally high attendance, and that current openings are limited. But a temporary dip did occur over the last two years, contributing to the budgetary problems.
“If we’re not at full capacity, we don’t make the money we need to make,” Cherry said.
Opelt said Catholic Charities also incurred debt from the rising cost of employee benefits, as well as limited availability of government and/or business subsidies — a crucial need for all child-care facilities, she said.
“The problem is, day care does not pay for itself,” Opelt said. “When you take the cost of operating a day care and subtract the fees, you’re at a deficit always. You look at any day care, and it’s supported and underwritten in some fashion.”
Deacon Defendorf said these issues are reflective of economic struggles throughout Bath, remarking, “The economy in this area is not good at all.” He added that the center was likely to be affected because “any not-for-profit runs pretty close to the belt.”
According to Deacon Defendorf, the $12,000 that St. Mary’s Parish forgave for the center represents 80 percent of one year’s rent. Although the parish will continue to assist the center during the 2004-05 fiscal year that began July 1, neither Deacon Defendorf nor Opelt envision the same level of generosity.
“I’m not sure we’ll able to do it to that extent. These are difficult times, so we’ll see what happens,” Deacon Defendorf said.
“They’ve got their own financial issues at St. Mary’s. But what he’s saying is, ‘We want to do everything possible to ensure the success of this program.’ The critical thing is, Ray cares about the kids in the community,” Opelt said. She added that Deacon Defendorf’s caring is shared by many St. Mary’s parishioners who contribute toward the center: “St. Mary’s is a very strong partner.”
Opelt is optimistic about the future, noting that this year, for the first time, Catholic Charities is receiving United Way funding for the center. Catholic Charities is pursuing other new grant monies as well.
Although the center increased its fees in March, Opelt said she will seek as many other financial avenues as possible so that parents — many of whom are in low-income situations — won’t suffer any more than necessary. “We had concern raised by many of our parents that day care would become unaffordable,” Opelt said.
Despite some of these financial tussles, Opelt and Cherry expect Bath Community Day Care to continue being a highly sought-after entity.
“There is a huge need for child day care; we are the only day-care center in the central area of our county. We’ve got statistics that show there is more demand than there are providers,” Opelt said.
“The next closest day cares are in Corning and Hornell,” Cherry added. “If the center were to go away, you’re talking about 120 families looking for day care.”