Amanda Groth spent Monday, Aug. 24, much as she’s spent the past several months — putting together classrooms in her new child care center near Esko.

Since partnering with Northwood United Methodist Church in May, Groth has 12 hours a day or more transforming the church’s basement into a child care center for up to 68 children — including eight infants and 10 toddlers.

Groth’s 3-year-old son Rider plays quietly while she hangs posters, arranges tables and puts the finishing touches on the Growing With Love Childcare Center.

Amanda Groth hangs a poster in the basement of Northwood United Methodist Church in Esko as she prepares to open the Growing With Love Childcare Center next month. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)
Amanda Groth hangs a poster in the basement of Northwood United Methodist Church in Esko as she prepares to open the Growing With Love Childcare Center next month. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)

Groth has a tentative open date Sept. 28, meaning her plans for a child care center have come together with lightning speed.

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Child care is in increasingly short supply in Carlton County. A survey conducted in January by First Children’s Finance (FCF) showed the area was desperately short of child care. FCF is a nonprofit organization that works to help families and communities thrive by increasing the availability, affordability and quality of early child care and education, according to the organization’s website.

The survey conducted by FCF showed approximately 240 infants and toddlers in Carlton County — about 31% of the total infant and toddler population in the county — need care but do not have a spot at a child care center or family provider. Of the 229 parents who responded to the survey, 28% said they have withdrawn from the workforce or declined employment because of difficulty making child care arrangements. More than 100 — or about 45% — said the child care shortage in Carlton County has impacted their thinking about having another child.

Groth attended a town hall Jan. 14 to talk with other community members about the shortage and brainstorm ideas to address it. Groth was working at a child care center and was hoping to use her degree from the University of Wisconsin-Superior to start her own center, but she needed a space to do it.

Pastor Brian Cornell said he was aware when he started at Northwood of a need in the Esko community for child care and ended up at the same town hall at the Carlton County Transportation Center.

“Pastor Brian was there, and he was saying how he had the facility and had room for a child care center, but nobody to run one,” Groth said. “So it worked out perfectly because here I am, someone who wants to run one with no facility.”

Cornell gave Groth his card and the two met shortly afterward. By May, the church had approved the partnership, and in June, Groth got to work preparing the basement and two upstairs rooms to host up to 68 children — an already monumental task complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Groth set up four separate rooms for the different age groups. The two upstairs rooms will host infants and toddlers, with preschool and school children up to age 12 going to more traditional classroom settings in the basement.

Buses from the Esko School District will pick up and drop off children at Growing With Love every day for before- and after-school care.

Using the app Brightwheel, parents and guardians can check their kids in and will receive a quick questionnaire.

“They’ll scan a QR code at the kiosk in front and it’ll pop in a spot for their child’s check-in code, then a three-question health screening will pop up,” Groth said. “It’s really simple, like has your child been exposed to anybody, have they had a fever — things like that. You’ll have to check all of them and then the kid’s signed in, and you bring them to their classroom.”

Children and staff at Growing With Love will also have temperature checks with non-contact thermometers each day before entering the classrooms.

The readings will be recorded in the Brightwheel app, as will other information — like diaper changes, meal times and nap times — that parents can access in real time.

Groth said she is nearly ready to open. She just needs to put the finishing touches on each of the four rooms and finish staff interviews. She also is preparing for her inspection with the Minnesota Department of Human Services — which will be conducted virtually because of the pandemic.

Cornell said he and Northwood are thrilled to host Groth and the child care center in their building — it’s something that addresses a need in the community and furthers the mission of the church.

“Caring for children is a pretty basic, that’s-what-Jesus-said sort of thing,” Cornell said. “It’s another one of those, you know you’re supposed to do it, you just don’t know how. Amanda knows how.”