“I kept Crissy with me every day for the first four years of her life,” Anita said as we chatted recently at the counter of the local hardware store.

Anita was our next-door neighbor in my early years. Crissy, was her oldest daughter and my very first best friend.

Crissy and I spent long hot summer days making mud pies in the yard and pretending to be Charlie’s Angels with our friend, Shannon, from across the street.

As a blonde, Crissy always got to be Kris Monroe. Shannon and I had to take turns being Kelly. No one wanted to be Sabrina. In retrospect, I feel kind of bad about discriminating against her like that.

Anita and Crissy were on their own in the beginning. And, while it wasn’t absolutely unheard of to be a single mom in the early 1970’s, it was a stark contradiction to the nuclear families found on most blocks.

To survive, Anita worked at service stations. She took Crissy with her every day to work, placing her in a play pen behind the register.

Eventually, she changed to a night shift so Crissy could sleep in a makeshift bed in the cabinet below the register. Anita said she received some strange looks from customers hearing strange noises from there.

I was struck by our common ground, even though our life experiences were 25 years apart.

As a working mother with three children, I have considered just about every option when it comes to day care.

When my first child was born almost 19 years ago, we were living in Newton and working in Wichita. At that time, there were few day care center options available locally. Newton Community Child Care was only for hospital employees.

My children have been in licensed day care homes, preschools, day care centers and latchkey programs.

I have filled out enough enrollment paperwork to fill the Library of Congress.

So, when I returned to the community in 2012 with an infant in tow, I was pleasantly surprised to see how the local capacity had grown.

While the purpose of this column is to highlight the programs funded by Harvey County United Way, it is important to point out there are many caring, quality licensed day care homes in Harvey County.

In fact, one of those day care providers, Christie Spillane of Wee Be Tots, is also a member of our board of directors. Christie passionately works to carry out the mission of the organization, doing everything from volunteering her time at KidFEST, to organizing the Classroom Wish List project and encouraging her family to donate via payroll deduction.

We are blessed to have her on board.

For parents seeking center-based daycare, Harvey County United Way currently funds day care scholarships for families in need at:

Hesston Community Child Care

Newton Community Child Care

Sunshine Academy Learning Center

USD 373 Latchkey

And, for families wanting a preschool experience for their children, Harvey County United Way funds Community Playschool on the Bethel College Campus.

Supporting access to care for children from infants to elementary school is in line with the mission of Harvey County United Way on multiple fronts.

EDUCATION – Parents report that children enrolled in the early childhood programs are more likely to be prepared for kindergarten, arriving with the social and educational skills to aid in a successful transition.

A four-year old at Sunshine Academy entered the pre-Kindergarten program noticeably behind in developmental assessments. The center staff worked with the parent, grandparent and pediatrician to diagnose and treat the child with ADHD. The child then entered Kindergarten knowing her ABC’s, colors, shapes, and able to count to 50.

HEALTH – Centers provide healthy meals and snacks, outdoor play and health education such as dental care and safety. In addition, latchkey services ensure school-age children are cared for in a safe environment instead of being home alone.

At last year’s grant meeting, we heard the story of a young boy lost after school. The principal was engaged in the search, and fortunately the boy was found safe. His worried mother then learned about the scholarships available, and enrolled him in latchkey.

INCOME STABILITY – Day care scholarships help offset the cost of care, bridging the gap for low-income families and ensuring all children have access to the same standard of early childhood education.

Of equal importance, local employers are directly impacted by lessened absenteeism and lost time due to employees without reliable day care.

Eventually, they will be benefitted by a workforce of children entering kindergarten ready to learn, which we know ultimately leads to high school completion.

I think back to Anita’s ingenuity as a single, working mother. Crissy turned out great! There are many parents in the community just like her. If we can help in even a small way like a day care scholarship, ultimately we are LIVING UNITED.