by Terry Rogers
Kid’s Inc., housed within the Reformation Lutheran Church, will celebrate 26 years of providing childcare for families in Milford. Mary Lu Wilson, Director, explained that the decision to open the childcare center at the church was something Pastor John Ranney felt was necessary.
“He said “Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep,’ and that is what we’re trying to do here,” Wilson said. “Pastor Ranney felt strongly that children needed supervision after school.”
By the 1980s, Wilson explained, many mothers began returning to the workforce and people were seeing a need for supervision for children after school. In 1986, the Milford School District Board of Education founded a latchkey program that operated at Lakeview Elementary School. In 1991, Parks and Recreation at the City of Milford founded a program that they named “Kid’s Inc.,” using a federal grant to fund an after school program.
“It was very successful until protests from private daycare owners in town, who didn’t think the city should be funding their competition, caused the city to close the program,” Wilson said. “Reformation had been considering such a program and Pastor Ranney moved quickly to bring it to the church. It was not an easy sell at first. Many on Council and the congregation opposed the new venture. How much electricity would be used? How about all the extra water running in the restrooms? Would the church have to subsidize the program? There were many questions, but the Council gave the go-ahead.”
Under Jeanette Riddick and Theresa Franklin, who operated the Parks and Recreation program, tuition remained the same and the program opened in the church in June of 1993 with between 25 and 30 children. Riddick and Franklin left the program after two years and many of the children left with them. Wilson, who had been operating a home daycare until her husband’s death in 1993, and who was a former member of Council, was asked to take over.
“When I started, there were only about four or five children who remained, but I knew this was a perfect fit,” Wilson said. “This is more than a job for me. I feel it is my calling. Children are the greatest gift God can give us. I feel very blessed that God has given me the ability to help shape a child into who they are. The first year, we ran into a deficit which had to be covered with money from one of the funds at the church. By the next year, licensing was completed which allowed for 30 children and there were 28 already enrolled. Pastor Ranney was designated as the director while Wilson completed her associate degree at Del-Tech in Georgetown.”
In the early years, the church continued to cover some of the costs of the center. When a daycare on Lakeview Avenue closed, more children began attending Kid’s Inc. and morning hours were added. As part of his Eagle Scout project, Wilson’s son, Matthew, built a playground for the center in 2000. By this time, members of the congregation began to see the significance of this type of ministry, Wilson explained.
“One said, “We are right there in the middle of the community,” and Pastor Ranney kept insisting that the true value of the program was the community outreach,” Wilson said. “We looked for troubled children. Some had been turned away from other centers. We took them in and loved them.”
By 2002, Kid’s Inc. was self-supporting and contributed $11,000 to the congregation to offset expenses. Growth was steady and the license was amended to allow 60 children to be in the center at one time, but because children attended at different times, by 2008, enrollment was at 97 students.
“Wilson is an excellent role model for the children and the staff,” Interim Pastor Glenn Ludwig, who filled in at the church after Pastor Ranney retired, said. “The program is very well run and organized. The staff is excellent. Kid’s Inc. is a tremendous witness to the community of Milford.” He encouraged Council to appoint a Board of Directors to oversee the program more closely.
In 2010, Kid’s Inc. entered the DE Stars for Early Success Program and has continuously received awards for its programs. In 2013, a Board of Directors was appointed by the Church Council, composed of the pastor and four lay members. Today, Kid’s Inc. accepts children from Kindergarten through 6th grade. The center provides before and after school care as well as all-day summer care with a religious component.
“That sets us apart for parents who may be seeking something more than just daycare,” Wilson said. “Pastor Paige Evers meets with the kids once a month for Bible-story and prayer. Kid’s Inc. children are invited to participate in our week-long Vacation Bible School held at the end of June. There is no charge for VBS so that every parent can allow their child to participate. Our staff works hard to provide learning experiences throughout the year that help the children build on what they are learning in school and college, and come back in the summer to help out” There are currently 105 children enrolled.
Many of the current staff members grew up in the program. They come back to help during high school and college. Some of them have gone on to become teachers. The program’s financial stability has grown and, in 2018, contributed $18,000 to the church expenses. Former Council President Mark Nauman called the program “Reformation’s stellar outreach ministry.”
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