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Hernando unemployment shows up as empty slots at day cares, preschools

In a county with 10.9 percent unemployment, the effects are many and wide-ranging — and sometimes in places you might not have thought about. In Hernando County, job loss trickle-down has hit preschools and day care centers, providers say. As parents lose their jobs, they're taking their offspring from professional educational and socialization opportunities to care for them at home.

"We've lost 11 kids since October," said Irma Nazario, director of Tomorrow's Hope Preschool & Day Care at First United Methodist Church on Spring Hill Drive. Enrollment now stands at 25. "We've never had this small an amount," she said. The school is licensed to accommodate up to 60 youngsters.

In December, Tomorrow's Hope had to let go a K-2 teacher and an assistant. But the father of two children who attended came to the rescue when his kids teared up at the loss of their favorite caregivers. He contributed sufficient funds to bring back the two staffers for six months.

"Right now, we're just holding on," Nazario said. She didn't rule out closing the school, which has been in existence for eight years.

To ward off shuttering the doors, staffers have hung an advertising banner out front and are distributing fliers to area churches, notifying them of the availability of a Christian education. "Word of mouth is even better," Nazario noted, hoping parents of her students are spreading the word.

The school's costs are modest: $100 a week for a 2-year-old, $80 for part time, $95 for full time 3- or 4-year-olds, $75 for a part-time preschooler.

Tomorrow's Hope is hardly alone. Many centers are struggling, said Catherine Siciliano, who through her Stretch and Grow franchise conducts weekly exercise classes at 10 child care centers in Hernando.

But it varies from place to place, Siciliano said. Those providing care mainly for the youngsters of blue-collar families are hurting the most. Those whose clientele tends to be the children of professional parents are faring better, she said.

Yet, five years ago, all of the centers at which she taught were full. "About 10 percent of centers are full now," she said.

Enrollment is down somewhat at the Hernando County Family YMCA, too, said Tammy Brinker, executive director for school-age programs. She didn't have a specific number.

"What we're finding is most of the kids are dropping out because parents have lost their jobs," Brinker said.

To counter the exodus and help families with budget constrictions, Brinker said the Y has increased its need-based scholarship program.

"Our parents need our help," she said.

Enrollment at the Y, which includes breakfast, lunch and a snack, ranges from $60 to $125 a week.

The Y continues to provide after-school programs for some 800 youngsters at school sites throughout the county at a fee of $50 a week.

The director of the Boys & Girls Club of Hernando thinks it has benefited from some of the Y's losses.

"We've had kids come from the Y," said executive director Josh Kelly, "because we're not so expensive."

The club's before-school program is priced at $20 a week, after-school at $30, and before- and after-school at $40. Snacks are provided.

But in the last two months, overall enrollment has slid from 140 to 109, Kelly said. Average daily attendance is about 75 in Spring Hill; it's 20 to 30 at its Brooksville site.

"We will let the kids come, no matter what," Kelly emphasized. The club awards scholarships to those in need.

Two schools reported no problems with losing students.

At Mrs. B's Day Care on Spring Hill Drive, director Lisa Mendez said the facility has a waiting list beyond its licensing for 99 youngsters.

"They're not all here at the same time," she pointed out, some opting for the morning session, others for before- and after-school programs.

Breakfast, lunch and a snack are served. Fees range from $60 a week to $125.

Spring Hill Baptist Church on Mariner Boulevard has experienced an increase of three children recently, said principal Mike Willis. At a state conference, he said, he heard that enrollment in Christian schools was up by 10 to 15 percent.

A full-day program is $389 a month, a half day $328. While food is not included in the fees, children may purchase lunch and snacks in the church cafeteria.

Although some preschools and day cares are thriving, even their directors remain watchful.

Said Mendez of Mrs. B's: "A lot of parents do lose their jobs. I know there's others for whom it's really rough out there."

Beth Gray can be reached at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Hernando unemployment shows up as empty slots at day cares, preschools 02/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 1:25pm]
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