Kingdom Builders to open childcare facility in early 2024

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Battle Creek’s newest childcare facility won’t be open until early 2024 and it already has a waiting list.
This does not surprise Dr. Tino Smith, the founder and leader of  Kingdom Builders Worldwide which is opening the facility — Kingdom Builders Child Care Academy — along with his wife, Nicole who worked with him on the development of the facility.
“People are telling me that they need an environment where their kids will be safe and are being taught something,” Smith says. “Our Child Care Academy lines up with a lot of people's needs.”
Tino Smith, founder and leader of Kingdom Builders WorldwideThe childcare facility is licensed for 30 children ages 3 and up and will meet state guidelines for the staff-to-child ratio. It also will be affordable to ensure that families with parents who work outside of the home have access, Smith says.
The revenue generated through other income streams at Kingdom Builders will help to offset the cost of operating the facility. Since Smith opened his ministry on the site of the former Southeastern Elementary School, he has transformed the campus and 67,000-square-foot building to include a short-haul trucking company, a driver education school, a construction company, and a place to gather for residents of the Post Addition where Kingdom Builders is located.
“We create jobs and provide services to people,” Smith says. “Every need that we see in the city or the community, we try to meet. We solve problems and figure out what needs to be done. We are able to keep the childcare academy affordable because we use the funds from multiple entities we have here. This enables us to help people and allows them to earn an income.”
The lack of quality, safe, affordable child care causes plenty of issues for parents who work outside of the home, according to a survey conducted in 2022 which was a collaboration with Duncan Aviation, Magna Cosma Casting, and Bronson Battle Creek, who partnered with Battle Creek Unlimited to survey their employees about their childcare issues.

A glimpse of the future Kingdom Builders Child Care Center.Sixty-eight percent of respondents who had at least one child under age 5 cited cost as a major issue because the expense of caring for younger children is higher; 62 percent said they missed work at least once per month because of issues related to childcare; 7 percent said they missed at least four days of work each month; and one out of every eight workers said they are searching for better quality child care and not able to find it, the survey says.
Courtney Berger, Operations Manager at Jumpstart Child Care on Helmer Road, says she recently got a phone call from a new mom who had to go back to work three weeks after giving birth.

“She was asking if we had any slots available and I had to tell her that we did not,” Berger says.

“There is such a dire need for child care, This isn’t a Michigan problem, it’s a nationwide problem.”
Battle Creek is not immune
There is an insufficient supply of Early Childhood Education provider slots in the Battle Creek area to meet family needs resulting in a shortage of 2,391 slots for children ages 0 to 5, according to information presented by Pulse in an Early Childhood Education Analysis. The unmet need is highest for ages 0 to 2 making up 1,522 slots of the gap.
Pulse (formerly BC Pulse) is a partner, advocate, and coach that works to improve early childhood development in Michigan.
The data they present is based on numbers from the United States Census Bureau which says there is an estimated population of 4,260 children ages 0 to 5 in the Battle Creek area.
Jumpstart is one of 47 ECE providers in the Battle Creek analysis which have a combined capacity of 1,869 slots for children ages 0 to 5. Of these 47 providers, 21 are childcare centers, 16 are family childcare homes, and 10 are group childcare homes.
Kelley Parish, at left and Courtney Berger, at right, take a moment to check in with each other. Parish is Jumpstart's Certified Family Life Educator and leads the afterschool program, and Berger is the Operations Manager.Berger says the childcare center which is owned by her parents and became licensed in 1991 has the capacity for 58 children. The facility takes infants through 13-year-olds and has an afterschool homework lab run by an on-staff Certified Family Life Educator. That homework lab had been an on-site E-Learning program for school-age youth during the pandemic.
The E-Learning program was in-person with students and staff wearing masks. Berger says this gave parents, especially those who were first responders, the ability to continue with their jobs knowing that their children were in a safe environment carrying on with their learning.
The E-Learning program was in answer to a question Berger and her parents had been asking about what they could do to accommodate needs in the community during state-mandated closures.
The pandemic put the ongoing and escalating childcare crisis front and center. This crisis was highlighted by the number of facilities and centers that closed their doors or were unable to meet the ongoing needs of parents, some of whom had to choose between keeping their jobs or leaving the workforce. The latter impacted women in the workforce far more than their male counterparts, according to a story on the American Progress website.
This cubby is part of the future Kingdom Builders Child Care Center.“I sit on several boards set up to address the childcare crisis and turnover with staff at centers continues to be a huge issue,” Berger says. “We’re not able to filter the people with credentials that the state wants equivalent to the needs of what parents want.”
This is in addition to the stigma surrounding the childcare profession which many still consider a “perpetual babysitting service,” Berger says.
“Child care is a professional career. We are constantly battling the stigma of being a professional career that’s not prioritized in the hierarchy of employment,” she says. “The value of what a childcare provider is is not reflected in the wages, benefits, and respect overall.”
The answer to the staffing shortages and lack of quality, safe, affordable child care offered up by some has been to pull back on licensing rules and regulations and credentialing, Berger says.
“We don’t need to water down the standards, we need people to step up to the plate and level out the playing field when it comes to child care.”
Supporting each other
Where there used to be competition among childcare providers, Berger says those days are gone. Now if she gets an inquiry and doesn’t have an available slot, she’ll refer that person to other providers.
A glimpse of the future Kingdom Builders Child Care Center.She also worked with Smith to help him work through the process of establishing Kingdom Builders Child Care Academy.
“After the pandemic, when Gov. Whitmer made child care a priority and got the conversations started about it, there were still a lot of rules and regulations that had to be satisfied,” Smith says.
The weeding through verbiage and the licensing required can be intimidating and overwhelming, Berger says.
“We were able to break down the barriers of what that language means, and what does it mean to have documentation like permission and liability slips, sunscreen forms, or medical forms,” she says of working with Smith. “We make a collaborative effort to say it’s not that scary. We’re definitely not going to water down standards. We need to find people who understand and believe in the importance of what Early Childhood Education provides.”
Getting people to understand its importance will require a multi-faceted approach that includes community assessment, data collection, and expanding current services while supporting existing services, Smith says. These are areas that Pulse has already been focusing on.
A glimpse of the future Kingdom Builders Child Care Center.“We need to make sure our children and families are at the forefront,” he says. “I have always been a follower of Frederick Douglass and agree with his words — It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men and I would extend that to broken people given the times we are in.”

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