The staff members at The Nest — Center for Women, Children & Families aren't very hard to identify now. They are the ones sticking their chests out with pride.
The child care center just earned a three-star — out of a possible four — voluntary rating from the KIDS NOW program administered by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
So what, you say?
Well, many of the parents and guardians served by The Nest are clinging to the frayed ends of their ropes or are inches away from losing their grips. Many come to the agency in crisis, and many are without money.
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Still, the staff thinks the children of those adults deserve the best they can offer in nurturing and educational child care. And by providing those families with more than what is required by law, the center earned those stars.
Three stars, earned by only 18 of the 180 centers in Fayette County, "tell people we go above and beyond," said Jenny Morris, child care director at The Nest. "All our teachers are degreed." Only about five local centers have earned four stars.
The desperate parents and guardians whose children attend The Nest — daily or occasionally — can mark quality child care off their list of worries. And if that is all The Nest did, staff members could rightly pat themselves on the back.
But The Nest is much, much more. In addition to the child care center, which offers free respite care for parents while they search for jobs, have medical appointments or just need a break, The Nest offers three other programs for parents and families: crisis care, self-help parenting and domestic violence counseling.
"We see ourselves as a holistic agency," said Beth Dotson Brown, communications and grants director. "We are a highway to family stability. The way we are different from any other agency is that we have four entrance ramps into one of the four programs we offer."
Crisis care offers food, toiletries, diapers and cleaning supplies in an emergency. Referrals also might be made to other agencies.
"If someone comes in to crisis care for a food box and talks about a domestic violence problem, we can connect them with a counselor here," Brown said. "We make sure they have all their needs met through any of these programs."
Also, clients may attend parenting classes that are facilitated by other parents.
"The parents already have the knowledge," Brown said. "They just need (a facilitator) to draw it out and help them see how it applies to the situation they are in."
The Nest is a non-profit organization that was formed in 1977 when the Lexington Child Abuse Council and Women's Center of Central Kentucky joined forces to help families while at the same time working to prevent child abuse and neglect. Located in Duncan Park at 530 North Limestone, the agency can easily be forgotten or overlooked.
In 2009, the child care center was forced to close because of a budget deficit, but it reopened in March 2010. It is a sign of these economic times that the program is struggling again.
"Donations are down and grants are down, and the city is gutting budgets," said Jeffrey A. White, executive director. "For us to be around another 35 years, we really need that funding to support these programs."
Their support comes from United Way of the Bluegrass, local and federal funding, individual donations and grants. More and more groups are forced to drink from those same troughs, decreasing the amount each receives.
So the staff wants to brag about how good it is and hopefully catch your eye.
"We want people to understand the totality of what we do and we want them to be involved," Brown said. "We are open to them donating money or donating their time, especially in April."
Why April? It's National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the perfect time to put yourself in the shoes of a parent who is stressed to the breaking point.
"I can't imagine what it feels like to wonder where to leave my child when I'm going to look for a job," said former board chair and longtime volunteer Patty Breeze. "I can't imagine why we don't have 100 children there.
"Just knowing that for six to eight hours my child is safe, with well-educated caregivers, and I can focus on what I need to do . I wish the community would think of all the blessings they have and share with those less fortunate."
Maybe we just needed reminding.
To help keep the agency on our front burners, the members of the parenting classes will place pinwheels in Duncan Park this month to raise awareness of child abuse and hopefully the needs of The Nest.
Also, on Wednesday, University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy students will talk with the public about their medications and proper usage, as well as other health issues, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at The Nest.
"I think people come here word-of-mouth," White said. "They know we have these four programs and will help them out."
The staff wants us to know that and to remember that the agency is still around.