YMCA expands daycare operations to include Cooperation Station

Rhonda Silence

When the Cook County Community YMCA opened its doors in January 2014, providing daycare to the community was not on its list of services to be provided. However, by the end of the first year, the organization had identified daycare as something the community desperately needed. Since then, the YMCA’s role in childcare has continued to expand.

When Busy Bees Daycare opened in January of 2015 YMCA Executive Director Emily Marshall said, “It filled instantly and we had a waiting list of 30 kids, with 19 of those being infants.”

The Busy Bees Daycare is a preschool program for 3-to 5-year olds, run by Ashley Green and Stephan Nelson. There are currently 10 children enrolled in Busy Bees.

The YMCA has added two other childcare options, Little Ladybugs and Wiggle Worms. Little Ladybugs is an infant program for children aged 6 weeks to 2 years. Running Little Ladybugs is Olivia Pehrson and Amanda Carlson. There are seven children in Little Ladybugs at this time.

Wiggle Worms is a toddler program for children ages 2 to 4 years old. Lexi Bruno and Kirsten Pederson oversee the program. There are 8 – 10 children in Wiggle Worms.

Daycare providers express concern

The YMCA and Cook County Community Education, working as the Cook County Youth Agency Coalition, recently agreed to take on operation of the Cooperation Station.

Cooperation Station is a family program of mixed aged children from 6 weeks to 5 years old, formed as a nonprofit by parents and community members in 1999. Staffers at Cooperation Station are Maddee Young, Kevin Kager and Carah Thomas.

The relationship between the YMCA and Cooperation Station raised some questions from community members who wondered why the YMCA, which works with Cook County, the City of Grand Marais and School District 166 to provide YMCA services, was expanding into another daycare, at another location. The major questions are how will this impact YMCA members, taxpayers and other daycare providers?

A local daycare provider who preferred not to be named said the YMCA operating not just one, but four daycares, makes her uneasy. “Right now there are a lot of daycare aged kids, but that goes up and down. As a private daycare, we are not subsidized by grants. We pay all of our own expenses—cleaning, utilities, and so on. If our numbers drop because the Y can take 40-plus kids, that could hurt our family.”

Another provider who preferred not to be named shared the same concerns. She said, “The community got so upset when Dollar General wanted to come to town. What about the YMCA competing against private daycares? It’s not a level playing field. I can’t go to Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation for grants,” she said, noting investments in her daycare come directly out of her pocket.

“Amongst the childcare providers in the community, we’ve always been collaborative, not competitive. We’ve always been here for each other—this feels more like a business,” the provider said. “It’s discouraging.”

She added, “It would be great if the Y expanded services since they have multiple staff, such as with extended hours and weekends. If the Y truly wants to meet a need in the county, that is one.”

Debra Beckwith, a daycare provider in Grand Marais for 30-plus years, said the YMCA’s daycare programs haven’t affected her and she doesn’t feel that it will. However, she said local providers were told the YMCA would be giving them support. “I don’t think they’ve done much,” said Beckwith. “They gave one free training, but I heard they were going to do more, which would be nice.”

YMCA seeking sustainable options for families

YMCA Executive Director Marshall said the daycare programs generate enough revenue to operate at a “break-even” point, so she believes it will not have an effect on Y members or taxpayers.

In answer to home daycare provider concerns, Marshall said, “All of the in home providers are full with waitlists too, so we are not trying to create competition in any way. Any time someone calls to get on our waitlist I give them the names of the other providers in town too. We are really in a crisis mode and we are all doing our part to create sustainable options for families.

“We support what the in home providers are doing and still encourage others to become trained to do it out of their home. Before opening more childcare programs we tried recruiting individuals to become in-home providers and even offered free training through the Youth Agency Coalition and guidance for people wanting to become in-home providers. We had several show interest but did not go through with it in the end. Since discussion about opening another location, no new in home daycares have opened and several have closed due to retirement,” she said.

Marshall added, “There are certainly benefits to both!”

In response to rumors that the YMCA is purchasing the Cooperation Station on 5th Avenue, Marshall said that is not correct. She said the YMCA is renting the building, but the rent is factored into the operating budget for the daycare programs.

Cooperation Station staff will become YMCA employees.

When all the details are worked out, Marshall said, “We will have eight fulltime staff and a handful of part-time staff working in these programs.”

There will be a new childcare area in the lower unit of the Cooperation Station building as of October 3.

Marshall said, “We are so thankful to the founders of Cooperation Station and excited to carry forward the great work that they have started. By working together, we will create a more sustainable model and be able to serve more children. With a waitlist of over 40 children, we all recognize that something needs to be done and we are stronger when working together!”

Marshall said in recognition of the changes, there will be a “quad-daycare celebration” on Sunday, September 25 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at the YMCA. There will be a potluck social, open swim and open gym. Families from all four daycares are invited for activities, food and a short presentation.

For more information about the Cook County Community YMCA, visit or call (218) 387-3386. For in-home childcare, visit and enter your zip code for a list of local providers.

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