In recent years, United Community Action Partnership’s (UCAP) Head Start program has experienced growth but faced a lack of appropriate facilities able to house the program. When COVID-19 struck, four facility expansion projects were already underway in the agency that serves the nine southwestern Minnesota counties of Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lincoln, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Redwood and Renville.
“The facility expansions were critical to providing onsite and high-quality Head Start services,” said Deb Brandt, executive director of UCAP.
The facilities that they had been using in Marshall and Willmar were no longer available, explained Mary Lockhart-Findling, UCAP’s Head Start director, and they received an Early Head Start Expansion Grant.
Head Start moved to remote services in March 2020 because of COVID-19, but quickly re-opened its doors to onsite care and education starting in June 2020 and all the new facilities were complete between the summer and fall of 2020.
“Families in our communities needed us,” Brandt said. “They were working essential jobs and had few choices for their children’s care.”
“Approximately 70% of our Head Start families were working through COVID-19,” added Lockhart-Findling. “There is a childcare deficit – and the shortages are a barrier to employment. We knew we had to be open for onsite services to meet the needs of our communities. In addition to classrooms being open, we provided many types of family services – increasing social capital, crisis interventions, food packages, and parent education.”
To reach this achievement, four new and expanded facilities needed to be licensed and ready to provide safe services. New facilities are in Willmar, Hutchinson, Marshall with a whole new building, and Tracy.
Willmar’s license capacity is 124 children (100 preschoolers and 24 infants and toddlers) in addition to three home visitors with Early Head Start caseloads of 10-12 families. In Hutchinson, UCAP can serve 48 children (40 preschoolers and 8 Toddlers) in addition to one home visitor with a caseload of 10-12 Early Head Start families. Marshall’s licensed capacity is 124 children (100 preschoolers and 24 infants and toddlers) in addition to two home visitors with Early Head Start caseloads of 10-12 families. The new Tracy location serves eight toddlers.
“The classrooms and spaces are high-quality environments,” Lockhart-Findling said. “It is great to have stability and having classrooms in the same community under one roof when possible.”
“Despite the challenges of COVID-19, classrooms remained functional and provided high-quality programming,” Brandt added. “Both children and family outcomes were outstanding. Nearly 75% of children met school readiness goals and families reported feeling less isolated.”
Visit UCAP’s Head Start Program for additional information.