Lighthouse child care opening in CassPublished 8:22pm Wednesday, December 19, 2012
CASSOPOLIS — It seems odd running into the president of the Dowagiac Board of Education in a Cassopolis school.
But after 14 years building Lighthouse Christian Child Care Center on M-62 west of Dowagiac, which her aunt established the year before, Michelle Helmuth-Charles Jan. 7 opens its Cassopolis companion in Squires Educational Center.
The former elementary school houses Cassopolis Public Schools administration, adult and alternative education, Great Start readiness program (4-Rangers), Woodlands Behavioral Healthcare Network and, come February, Head Start.
Cassopolis Lighthouse was state-licensed last week for 60 children, ages newborn to 8. Dowagiac “is licensed for 50, but I have 57 with part-time before- and after-school kids. (Here) we all run our own programs, even though we collaborate and come together with a parent resource area,” Helmuth-Charles said Wednesday. “There are advantages of having all of us under one roof. Parents who have a 4-year-old and an infant or toddler have one spot for day care. If we see a child needs extra speech or an intervention, assessment is right here. There are no centers or groups in Marcellus or Edwardsburg,” so Cassopolis aims to serve those communities, too.
Cassopolis has “Midwest Energy, all the court buildings,” she said. “There are some large employers here. I’m looking at hiring six people to start. Newborn to 2 1/2 are on one side, then move over to the other side at 2 1/2, when they get moving. I’m sure we’ll have some wraparound care for kids in the 4-year-old program. Overall, about 110 children can be served on a daily basis.”
Dowagiac’s “self-sufficient” Lighthouse has 14 employees, including a program director and administrator, freeing Helmuth-Charles to move her desk to Cassopolis.
“I’ll primarily base here to get this to where it needs to be,” she said. “I’m going to be here because you have to be when you first start for the groundwork of establishing a reputation with policies and philosophy.”
Dowagiac parents, with one exception, are being discouraged from transferring to Cassopolis.
“One family from Cassopolis works in Granger and drives to Dowagiac for child care,” Helmuth-Charles said. “It makes more sense for them to be here. We accept state pay if parents qualify.”
With security moving to the forefront, “Everything’s locked,” she said. “You have to have a key card to get in, like Dowagiac. Everybody who works here has to go through a criminal background check.”
Helmuth-Charles is the mother of four children. There were four children in her family growing up, and in her father’s family the previous generation.
Child care “you either love it or you hate it, and anyone who doesn’t like it doesn’t need to be there at all. It’s not a job. You have to really care about kids.”
She previously worked for LADD (Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled) for seven years.
“I loved what I did there,” but at Lighthouse her kids could accompany her. “It is exciting to start from scratch. When I started in Dowagiac, there were 17 kids and licensing for 30 in our fellowship hall with classrooms. The new church was built with a section strictly for daycare, with dinners in the old sanctuary.”
Lighthouse Christian Child Care Center of Cassopolis at the former Squires Elementary School opens Jan. 7. It is licensed for 60 children ages newborn to 8.
There will be a public open house Jan. 3 from 3 to 6 p.m.
Call (269) 240-1473 for more information.