SPRING HILL — Megan Fish was working, but she couldn't save any money.
"All my checks were going to child care," said Fish, 19, mother of 1-year-old Brayden and an employee at Care-A-Lot Preschool. "I barely had enough for diapers."
Her boss told her that the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties offered subsidized child care to parents who qualified. In April, she filled out the paperwork, but Brayden was on a waiting list of at least 600.
At the same time, the coalition's nonprofit foundation was busily raising money. Members racked up $10,000 through an antique car show and other events. They decided to spend $4,800 to provide services to two children — one in each county — who had been on the waiting list a long time. One of them was Brayden. The other was 15-month-old Presley, daughter of Lauren Schafer of Holiday.
"People often find child care through family relationships," said Jim Farrelly, the coalition's executive director. "They leave the child with grandma and that's great. But we want children in an educational setting where they are getting instruction to enter and succeed in school."
Two years ago, the coalition started a private foundation to try to make up for shrinking state funding.
"We got small donations," said Farrelly, who noted the lack of big corporate donors in Hernando and Pasco.
He said the wait list, which now stands at more than 600, has been on track to reach 2,000. Farrelly wants to knock that down as much as possible.
"To deal with all the kids on my wait list it would take an additional $7 million," he said.
He said this year the agency took a $125,000 hit to its $26 million budget, which also is devoted to funding the state's voluntary prekindergarten program that is open to all families. Next year, it's projected to lose $250,000 because of tight state finances and a new funding formula.
"We don't want to see anybody on the waiting list," said Dave Meglay, a certified financial planner and chairman of the foundation board. He said the state ties the coalition's hands by not allowing employees to raise money. A private foundation doesn't have to operate under those restrictions.
"Now that the foundation is getting some legs, we can put a dent in the wait list," he said.
Fish plans to use the extra take-home pay to start nursing school and eventually become a pediatric nurse.
"This is going to be a huge help," she said. "Not all my money is going to have to be put toward day care."