On-Site Childcare Makes a Difference
Have you ever had an idea, one that rolls around in your head and keeps coming back as something that might really be a good thing? Then you let it slide for a bit because it seems overwhelming, or you just don’t know where to begin and move forward? It seems we’ve all been there, no matter the size or scope of our “good idea.” Pioneer is no exception, but their “good idea” is now a reality. In this issue, we are so pleased to introduce you to PioneerKids!
“We started talking about the need for childcare for our employees way back in 2018, and then again in 2020,” said Patti Fandrich, human resources director at PioneerCare. “The topic came up time and time again as we knew it affected the worker shortage. We had employees either leave, work less time, or change shift schedules just to manage their need for childcare. Most often when they changed to overnight shifts to be at home with their kids during the day, it didn’t last long. Those kinds of hours just don’t always work with family relationships.”
The need was evident, but like any good idea, it seemed overwhelming. “It was hard to get past where to begin,” said Steve Guttormson, marketing and development director at PioneerCare. ”Patti’s prodding helped give us the permission to seriously start digging into it. From there, we just kept putting pieces together one step at a time. We needed to move ahead or put the idea into the drawer for the last time. We knew this idea was too good to be put into a drawer.”
“Employees were super excited to hear it had been approved, and I had two applications for kids to be enrolled within minutes of the announcement.” – Patti Fandrich
Last February, Patti started a focus group of employees to help identify what Pioneer was doing well and what changes could build and strengthen the workforce at Pioneer. “At our first meeting,” said Patti, “we identified a number of ideas, but they didn’t seem like things that would really make the necessary difference. Two gentlemen in the group piped up and asked us to talk about the real problem and that’s childcare. Surprisingly, these guys didn’t even have kids, but recognized our problem with an enthusiasm to make positive changes.”
So how does a long term care provider go about opening a childcare facility? “We knew we had the perfect space in an empty Pioneer Cottage,” explained Steve, “but we had a lot of pieces we had to whittle into place.” Thankfully, the idea was met with overwhelming support from the Board of Directors and PioneerKids was set in motion. “It’s a little out of the ordinary for childcare and long term care to come together,” said Steve, “and for us it’s a new venture. We’re challenging the system a bit. We’re the first employer in the area to do something like this and it’s been a learning curve to make it work.”
With space available due to staffing shortages, it seemed the primary piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. “It’s an easy space to use for childcare,” said Steve. “When the licenser came in to inspect, almost everything we needed was already in place. It offered a perfect home-like environment with all the necessary things like sprinkler systems and an approved kitchen. We didn’t have to remodel; the space was perfect for a childcare.”
As expected, employees were truly excited. “Employees were super excited to hear it had been approved,” said Patti, “and I had two applications for kids to be enrolled within minutes of the announcement.”
Next was to find a perfectly suited childcare professional to run PioneerKids. “We needed the best quality person in this position,” explained Patti, “to provide the very best care for our employees’ kids. Like other pieces, this fell into place, too. We hired long time childcare professional, Lisa Votaw, and we knew she was the perfect fit.”
“From the moment I walked into the courtyard at the PioneerKids space, I could see sidewalk chalking, bubble play and bike riding. Residents will be able to watch our kids at play and I think that’s amazing.” – Lisa Votaw
Lisa has been a licensed Childcare Provider for more than 26 years. “When they said I had come highly recommended by people,“ said Lisa, “that was pretty nice to know. It was an honor to know I’m well respected in this field. We talked about it and prayed about it as a family, and we knew it was right. Manager of PioneerKids sounded like a big job, but I’m so excited about this new venture. How cool to have aging residents and little kids be able to interact with each other!”
Lisa has always loved doing childcare. “I just love these kids,” she said, “I get rewarded with hugs and kisses every day! I’ve been at it for 26 years and now my mind is just spinning about all the possibilities at PioneerKids.” Lisa has always offered a pre-school kind of education to her kids and intends to carry that model into PioneerKids. “I think we have a real gem here,” said Lisa, “we just need to polish it into the perfect program to support Pioneer staff.”
PioneerKids can offer on-site childcare services for up to fourteen children – infants, toddlers, and preschoolers – in the Homestead Cottage. Now open, PioneerCare employees have an on-site childcare option just steps away from their workplace.
“From the moment I walked into the courtyard at the PioneerKids space,” said Lisa, “I could see sidewalk chalking, bubble play and bike riding. Residents will be able to watch our kids at play and I think that’s amazing. I’m exploding with ideas to bring fun for the kids and put smiles on the faces of PioneerCare residents. I see Halloween parades and holiday programs and so much more. This is going to be so much fun. I’ve imagined kids singing songs and residents singing along. We can respect their spaces but allow them to watch and enjoy.”
Lisa’s transition from home childcare provider to PioneerKids Manager was seamless. “It was hard for me to say goodbye to all my childcare families,” she explained, “but they all found new childcare and they were so supportive for my new endeavor. I even had a PioneerCare nurse on my wait list and now I get to care for her kids at PioneerKids. My excitement for this new program is overtaking my sadness of saying goodbye to families. There are so many possibilities ahead and I am so excited for this future!”
Speaking of excited for the future, allow us to introduce Ashley Sortland, Trained Medication Aide, who is taking advantage of the new PioneerKids program. “I’ve worked for PioneerCare for three years and I had switched to evenings and night shifts because of childcare issues,” Ashley said, “something I thought would make it easier on my family. It was hard to miss out on evenings with my family, but it was the best I could do being faced with childcare headaches. It was also a challenge to work nights and then have a three-year-old child to care for during the day. It wasn’t an easy situation. But then I found out about PioneerKids and I’m excited to say my son is now one of the first kids in this great new program!”
I just know this will make a difference. It will allow more people to get back into the workforce and that’s so important right now!” – Ashley Sortland
The schedule for PioneerKids works perfectly with the schedules of PioneerCare staff. “I’ll work from 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and have the peace of mind knowing my son is just steps away, “said Ashley, “it’s just so handy! This new program provides so many opportunities for people to move to a full-time position. When they couldn’t find childcare at 6:00 a.m., it was impossible, but now we have PioneerKids. I just know this will make a difference. It will allow more people to get back into the workforce and that’s so important right now!”
Ashley said PioneerKids has provided her with a much-improved work and family balance. “Just getting a full night’s sleep has been so great,” said Ashley, “I guess I never knew how important it was to get enough sleep. I know there are a lot of other moms in my shoes who will now have an opportunity to pursue their careers here at Pioneer and at the same time, rest easy knowing their kiddos are under the best care just next door. It’s just one more example of how Pioneer has shown their employees how much they care about us and our family’s well-being.”
It seems that idea back in 2018 was never meant to be put in a drawer. Rather, it became reality and a much-appreciated addition to the family of Pioneer. In the time I’ve been writing these feature articles for Pioneer, I’ve seen this over and over again. Pioneer has always been so forward thinking. They’ve always been looking ahead to whatever would best serve their residents and staff. I guess it’s all in the name as they’ve long been a “Pioneer” searching for the next great idea to serve this community. Welcome, PioneerKids!
Written by Mary Dolan for PioneerCare
PioneerKids is supported in part by a Childcare Education Capacity Grant through West Central Initiative. Additional support through the Frank W. Veden Trust, First Children’s Finance, and individual donors.