UPDATE Degenstein Foundation pledges $2 million for new child care center | News

LEWISBURG — The 1994 Charles B. Degenstein Foundation is offering a $2 million grant for the construction of a new child care center to be built at the Miller Center, just west of Lewisburg.

The Degenstien grant will be combined with a $1.68 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Community Facilities Congressionally Directed Spending Grant, previously secured with the help of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s office, to cover the construction costs.

The construction plans include an expansion on the west side of the facility. Other operational details are still in development.

The Miller Center, is a sports and recreational facility in East Buffalo Township, operated jointly by Evangelical Community Hospital, Geisinger and the Greater Susquehanna Valley YMCA.

“Our workforce at Evangelical is at least 80% women, if not more,” said Kendra Aucker, president and chief executive officer at Evangelical Community Hospital and president and board chair at the Miller Center.

“Accessing affordable, quality child care is the number one issue I hear when discussing the challenges facing young families with employees and prospective employees,” Aucker said. “We have to get creative and help these families with this essential service.”

Aucker said the next step is to engage businesses in the area to determine which ones are similar to Evangelical in their need for child care. Evangelical will work with those businesses to develop a model toward affordable child care in the region.

“Businesses have to rally together to create a model that helps the workforce,” said Aucker. “Child care becomes your problem as an employer if you don’t have the employees.”

The hospital system will reach out to employers or have forums over the next three months and come up with a model. Once that model is presented to the Miller Center Board, the plan can move forward, said Aucker.

The blueprints for the center already exist from pre-COVID days, but they need to be reviewed by the architect to ensure they meet any new regulations.

“We hope within three to four months of that we can start construction,” said Aucker.

The facility will be geared toward the “people of the region,” she said.

It’s too early to determine costs, but the YMCA has a progressive model of child care with resources available for all income levels, she said.

The goal is to have between 100 and 120 children with six to eight employees working five days a week in 10- to 12-hour operations, she said.

Matthew Walsh, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Geisinger and board secretary for the Miller Center said: “As an organization passionate about the health and well-being of the communities in Central Pennsylvania, we understand that far more goes into mental and physical health than just medicine. We’re proud to be part of this collaborative effort that will help provide local families with the support they need to live productive and fulfilling lives in these incredible communities.”

Aucker added that the organization will be looking to area employers to join the effort as the need for more affordable child care options continues to grow.

“There are nearly 11,000 pre-kindergarten-aged children in Union, Snyder, and Northumberland counties and almost 60% of them have working parents,” noted Bonnie McDowell, the chief executive officer of the Greater Susquehanna Valley YMCA.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 1,500 child care classrooms have closed in Pennsylvania. So as more and more children need care, parents face fewer and fewer options.”

Construction of the new space — the first step in this effort to address the community need — would not be possible without the support of The Degenstein Foundation, the Miller Center officials said.

“Charles Degenstein was a long-serving member of the Greater Susquehanna Valley YMCA and kids were his passion,” trustees of the Degenstein Foundation wrote in a statement.

“The Foundation is pleased to continue its support of The Miller Center and the mission to develop a sustainable model of child care that delivers more accessibility and more affordability to young families in our region. In addition, this effort benefits our business community by paving the way for more young families to remain in the workforce.”

Lewisburg resident Mike O’Connor, who was using the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail next to the Miller Center on Tuesday with his 8-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son, said he has family who have young children. They have a “tough time” with child care, he said.

O’Connor said he remembers child care when his children were young being a “stressful time” in terms of affordability and finding quality locations.

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