LIGONIER — Noble County’s Early Childhood Coalition, which aims to improve access to and quality of child care options in the county, has hired a new full-time coordinator.
Jenna Anderson, who previously worked as the support services manager and marketing specialist for Kendallville Public Library, has been named the Early Childhood Education Coalition coordinator for Noble County.
The program, called Noble Thrive by 5, has a number of goals, including increasing the availability, affordability, and quality of child care in Noble County.
Anderson’s experience in non-profit marketing and communications along with her strong ties to the community are the top reasons she was chosen for the position.
“Jenna has proven herself to be a connector in our community” said Brad Graden, executive director for the Community Foundation of Noble County, which helped launch the coalition. “Her ability to tell stories through video, her community involvement, and her leadership skills make her an asset to our county and a great choice for this new position.”
Anderson will be based at the Community Foundation’s offices in Ligonier, but will spend much time out in the field, traveling around Noble County working with those who can make an impact on early childhood education. She is a Strategic Doing Practitioner, trained in forming collaborations and moving toward measurable outcomes. In today’s world, collaboration is essential to meet the complex child care challenges facing employers, caregivers and parents.
As a parent herself, Anderson knows the struggles young families face in securing child care.
“I remember when I was a young parent, relying on family to care for my son while my husband and I worked,” she said. “Shortly before he turned 2 years old, we lost that support and needed to find child care. I was able to secure him a spot, but to pay for it we had to refinance our home and car. It was a huge, unexpected expense for us and it strained our family’s finances as I was getting started in a new career.”
Anderson said she knows child care remains a struggle that families face today, as well. Parents want to make sure their child is getting quality care, while not having to sacrifice other necessities for it. Many providers have to limit the children they can care for, either due to space or the inability to find additional caregivers to work in their facilities.
Child care also has an economic component, as employers are losing out on potential employees when parents can’t find the care they need.
Noble County’s Early Childhood Coalition is still in its early days, but continuing to build a foundation which will be sped by the hire of a full-time coordinator.
The Early Childhood Education Coalition, which was formed in early 2020, was created to address the issue of child care and education for the very young in the county, has hired a consulting firm to help in its planning.
There are more than 3,500 young children in Noble County under 6 years old, and nearly two-thirds of their parents work.
Prior to 2020, no one organization was identifying where those children were going during the day, what kind of education they were or weren’t getting and whether the county had enough capacity and affordability in child care.
Child care and early childhood education have been identified as workforce issues — shortfalls in child care options can have chilling effects on building a labor force as well as building families and growing the local population long-term. If the area doesn’t have a place to send kids during the work day or if child care is too expensive to afford on local wages, parents may seek to move or find employment elsewhere.
Studies show that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, the return on investment can be $4-$15 due to the lower special education costs, retention costs, reduced cost for social issues, an increase in post-secondary attainment and lower crime costs. Indiana loses nearly $1.1 billion every year due to a lack of child care and child-care-related absenteeism and turnover.
This child care gap was apparent to community leaders at the Community Foundation of Noble County, the Noble County Economic Development Corp., and Crossroads United Way, serving Elkhart, LaGrange and Noble Counties. Together, they hired Transform Consulting Group to gather key partners and develop a community-wide plan to get more children ready for school.
Anyone wanting to be a partner in efforts to strengthen Noble County through early childhood education can contact Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: News Sun Editor Steve Garbacz, who prepared this report, is a member of the Early Childhood Education Coalition’s volunteer marketing committee.