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Exceeding expectations with childcare
Rick Bussler, Publisher
hot pursuit, rick bussler, publisher, steele county times

It was less than two years ago when Leo Augusta first unveiled its plans for a childcare center in Blooming Prairie.

Since that time, the building donated to Leo Augusta has been completely renovated and opened for business in July.

While certainly not uncommon in small towns, I had been hearing what appeared to be some false information about the center. One of the biggest things I heard circulating was the fact that only seven children were utilizing Leo’s services. Some folks were even questioning how the center could survive with such low enrollment.

I decided to get the correct information from Amy Hinzmann, who serves as the board chair at Leo Augusta.

And what I found was a pleasant surprise.

Not only are there nearly 40 children enrolled in the center as of last week, but the center is exceeding certain benchmarks for childcare offered that Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund (SMIF) indicated would take Leo Augusta at least a year or more to hit. Keep in mind Leo has been open for only three months.

Hitting such numbers, Hinzmann said, “speaks to the need” for childcare. “There is such a vast need in the area,” she said. “It’s clearly an indicator that we have a childcare issue in the area.”

Leo Augusta still has a long way to hit its capacity of 144 youngsters, but Hinzmann said the center is heading in the right direction and she’s not worried at all about its future. Things, she said, are moving faster than they ever envisioned.

“You don’t reach 80% capacity the day you open,” Hinzmann stressed.

Like any start-up business, it’s going to take time for Leo Augusta to hit its peak. Sometimes it can take businesses years to achieve what it set out to do.

Families with small children are meeting with the center’s director and assistant director on a daily basis, according to Hinzmann. Tours and family visits are scheduled by appointment throughout the week.

One of the big draws with Leo Augusta is “creative curriculum” for infants through preschoolers. Leo’s program utilizes a research-based curriculum supporting the development of the whole child in addition to using unique, creative, hand-on learning that will emphasize collaborative play and independence through age-appropriate activities. Hinzmann is not aware of any other center in the area offering this learning approach.

Last week one of our photographers caught a group of the kids from Leo Augusta at Central Park learning about farm safety.

The center’s focus right now, Hinzmann said, is to continue growing enrollment and bring awareness of the childcare program being offered to the greater community.  “We need to work on the awareness of who we are,” she says, noting she hopes to educate area employers about what they have to offer employees in need of childcare.

And in case folks are keeping track, Leo has raised $2.4 million (80%) of its $3 million capital fundraising goal. Hinzmann stressed that they are not worried about fundraising right now and more focused on bringing awareness to the center.

“Fundraising comes later,” she said, adding they are actively pursuing grants to help close the gap.

Blooming Prairie and the greater area should be grateful to have a center like Leo Augusta going in hot pursuit of curtailing the area’s childcare crisis.

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