After 18 months of planning, paperwork, and fundraising, the emerging Baker Relief Nursery is now open to help local families
The start of relief nurseries dates to 1976 when women of the Junior League of Eugene created a childcare center “in response to a growing crisis of child abuse and neglect,” according to the Oregon Association of Relief Nurseries (OARN).
The model, which is now replicated by relief nurseries across Oregon, was to provide respite care and support to families.
The Baker location was spurred when Kim Mosier did some research on “childcare deserts,” which refers to areas where the available childcare spots are fewer than the number of children who need care. Baker City is considered a childcare desert under that definition.
She also found data showing Baker County having high rates of child abuse and neglect, as well as higher rates of foster care than most other Oregon counties.
“That lead me to research what’s proven to work to keep kids out of foster care. Relief nurseries are the only thing I found,” she said.
She also learned that of the 35 relief nurseries in Oregon, only two are east of the Cascade Mountains.
The relief nursery model is for ages 0 to 5. It is a three-pronged approach that includes a classroom, home visits, and parent education.
“To support struggling families and give parents the tools to support their kids,” Mosier said.
Use of the nursery is voluntary, and families qualify through an interview process with the director. Eligible families are identified to have five or more stressors.
The OARN has compiled statistics based on use of relief nurseries. From 2008 to 2010, 99.6% of children in a relief nursery had no maltreatment after engaging in services. From 2014 to 2016, 95% of children had no foster care placements after engaging in relief nursery services.
After meeting with the Malheur ESD and the Eastern Oregon Early Learning HUB, Mosier and a group of like-minded volunteers helped start the process to establish a relief nursery in Baker County.
The board of directors includes Mosier, Tammie Blessing, Tammy Pierce, Kelli Wright, and Beth Quinn.
They sent an initial inquiry to OARN in October 2019. The next five months involved community planning and assessing local needs.
A letter of intent was sent to OARN in May 2020 and the application was approved in July 2020.
After receiving several grants and donations, RaeAnn Butler was hired as the program coordinator in October 2020.
Although the relief nursery model serves ages 0 to 5, the Baker Relief Nursery is focusing on ages 0 to 2.
“We’re starting with a modest program with just a few families,” Mosier said.
The board hopes to expand to serving 25 families by the end of 2021.
As a certified relief nursery, the Baker center will be eligible for state funding — but not until its second year.
“This whole first year we don’t have any state funding. It’s all donations and grants,” Mosier said.
The funding is a public-private partnership. Of the annual operating cost for most relief nurseries, 30% is provided through the Oregon Department of Education, 30% by grants, and 40% by private donations.
By statute, a 25% cash match is required from the local community.
“For every dollar we raise here, we get three dollars from the state,” Mosier said.
The Baker Relief Nursery is eligible to receive up to $150,000 in funding from the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division. This means $37,500 must be raised through donations and grants. The nursery is a nonprofit organization.
Baker Relief Nursery is located at 1925 16th St. It will start with one classroom designed for young children.
“When you’re six months old, your job at school might be learning to sit up,” Mosier said.
Families will also schedule respite time for a baby or toddler to stay at the nursery.
The classroom teachers will schedule home visits to assess that basic needs are met, and to help connect families with community resources.
The nursery also includes a diaper bank, food bank, and baby clothing bank — all stocked with donated items.
Currently the nursery has an infant class on Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., along with scheduled respite care and home visits.
How to help
The board of directors has several open positions, including secretary and at-large members.
Other ways to help include volunteering time during the respite hours, or making a donation to support the nursery.
For more information, call 541-239-5054 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monetary donations can be mailed to PO Box 1176, Baker City, OR 97814.