Launching the Region’s First Extended-Day Childcare Center During a Global Pandemic
One year ago, the doors opened to Academics First, the region's first and only licensed extended-day childcare center. But the road to bringing this first-of-a-kind center to the Mohawk Valley was a labor of love long before and took an entire community to make it happen.
In 2016, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo announced ESPRI (Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative), a multi-million-dollar effort to fight poverty in NYS. The city of Utica was one of 11 cities awarded funds to begin a process in identifying the barriers to getting out of poverty in local communities.
United Way of the Mohawk Valley was chosen to lead this effort locally, as an expert in identifying and solving our community's most pressing challenges. After hundreds of focus groups, meetings, and conversations with those struggling to overcome poverty, alongside collaborations with local government and leaders, five priorities were identified, one of the top is safe and reliable childcare beyond the typical Monday - Friday, 9 am – 5 pm workday. This type of childcare would assist families in the ability to obtain and keep more jobs, specifically those working second and third shifts.
“We know there are many barriers that keep families living in poverty. One of the root causes is the inability to work due to lack of needed childcare,” said Erin Gutierrez Matt, United Way MV CEO. “By offering a safe and reliable center for children to learn and grow allows parents to obtain or keep a job that supports their families and helping to break the cycle of poverty.”
From this problem, was born a solution with Academics First. This childcare center is located on Genesee Street in Utica, and currently operating Monday – Friday, 6 am – 6 pm providing care for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old. Academics First opened its doors for the first time during the current global pandemic. Entering a challenging industry during a challenging year was no small feat.
Celebrating their One-Year Anniversary
This was a year where many childcare centers closed their doors, yet with the thought leadership of United Way of the Mohawk Valley staff, perseverance of the staff at Academics First, and the support of local parents, Academics First celebrated their one-year anniversary last week.
“Our goal has always been to provide top-notch childcare and education for our community’s children. Despite the uphill battle that COVID brought, Academics First opened its doors, and continues to enroll children at a steady pace,” said Pastor Hughes, Academics First CEO. “The hard work of our staff, their perseverance, persistence, and resilience coupled with the support of United Way MV, this community, and the parents that are utilizing our center.”
Recognizing the importance of their clients, the families that entrust their children in their care each day, Academics First celebrated their one-year anniversary this month with a “Parent Appreciation Picnic” at a local park.
Preparing for Growth and Additional Childcare Hours
A year after opening its doors, as restrictions begin to lift, and children see their caregiver's faces for the first time, Academics First is ready for its next step in expanding hours to meet the community’s needs. Families in the Mohawk Valley can expect to see those extended hours roll out soon thanks to a United Way of the Mohawk Valley’s assistance in applying for and securing a grant from the City of Utica as part of Phase I allocation of Funding for Utica Prosperity Initiative.
The City of Utica’s investment in Academics First will expand upon Governor Cuomo’s ESPRI. This funding from the City of Utica will allow Academics First to hire more staff and expand its childcare services to 9 pm on weekdays and 6:00 am – 6:00 pm on Saturdays.
“Expanding childcare is an important piece and priority to reduce poverty in our community. I am pleased the city has built a strong partnership with United Way and can invest in this worthy initiative,” stated City of Utica Mayor, Robert Palmieri. “I commend Academics First CEO, Pastor Hughes, and her staff for their dedication in providing a safe and fostering environment for childhood development.”
United Way of the Mohawk Valley continues to work directly with Academics First providing administrative and leadership support to help ensure the center’s growth and sustainability as they serve our community.