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A Fremont daycare owner will speak on a panel Monday about her experiences in receiving Legislative Bill 840 funding.

Myra Katherine Hale, owner of Pearl Academy, will join the panel at the 2019 Thriving Children, Families and Communities Conference at the Younes Conference Center in Kearney at 12:30 p.m. Monday.

Hale said the panel will discuss economic development and how these institutions can partner with their town and city governments to get this kind of funding.

“For so long, we’ve kind of left it to the churches, which play an incredibly important role in child care and in services and ministry,” she said. “But it’s also the city’s responsibility to take care and invest in that critical stage of birth to 3.”

Hale said she was invited to speak by First Five Nebraska, an organization that focuses on building up child care infrastructure in the state.

Other panel members include Sally Hansen from the Valley Child Development Center, Nici Johnson from Educational Service Unit 13 and Melinda Long from the Columbus Community Hospital Child Care Center.

The Fremont City Council unanimously approved to give Pearl Academy $71,121 in LB 840 funding in July 2018. Hale said these funds are typically reserved for businesses that bring in high-paying jobs.

“The director of First Five Nebraska contacted me and said, ‘How did you do that? No other person has successfully gotten a LB 840 loan for child care. How did you do that?’” Hale said. “And I laughed, and I said, ‘Because I didn’t know it was hard.’”

Pearl Academy opened at 1950 E. Fifth St., shortly after receiving funding from the city and was able to build a playground structure for its kids. The center started with six children, but now has more than 100 enrolled.

Hale said although Pearl Academy doesn’t bring in the kinds of jobs that LB 480 funds are reserved for, it does support the parents who have these jobs.

“So if the hospital wants to successfully recruit in our legacy and nursing facilities and the leadership at Costco, those would all need child care,” she said. “And so as a city, you want to be able to say we have a lot of options.”

The loaned funds require the center to meet certain standards, including keeping seven full-time staff paid at least $10 an hour. The money is paid back over a five-year note, and if they keep their requirements, half is forgivable, Hale said.

With that money, the center also decided to split between ages birth to 3 and older kids to give them more room, Hale said. When looking for different places to rent in town, she said they decided to stay in the same building.

“Now we’ll have two centers using that same program,” Hale said. “And so we’ve really worked hard at being good stewards of the money that was invested to us.”

Hale said Pearl Academy differs from other child care centers in that it does not limit the number of families on government assistance. It also offers part-time care, which allows families to only pay for the days that children are at the center.

Although it may be hard to see the investments from the center since people don’t typically remember their early childhood, Hale said she promises they are there, and she enjoys getting to see the children’s growth every day.

“Those kids are less likely to get pregnant in high school, those kids are less likely to get on drugs, those kids are less likely to drop out of school,” she said. “And they’re ready for the workforce, those kids who have a positive early childhood experience.”

As Pearl Academy got closer to getting LB 840 funding, Hale said they were advised to be prepared for refection. But she said moving past that fear led to them getting the funding.

“There’s just this awesome thing that happens when we aren’t scared of people telling us no and we just decide, ‘OK, let’s try it. Let’s figure this out,’” Hale said. “And I’m super grateful that my team is really willing to do that.”

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