Written by Emily Stinnett
ARcare will use the Downtown Church of Christ building to start a new daycare that focuses on children from low-income families.
ARcare is a community health provider based in Augusta, Arkansas. Its Center for Education and Wellness focuses on childhood education., It is a magnet for foster children and extends into the community beyond primary care.
Searcy is known for being a “daycare desert,” meaning there are not enough daycare options for the number of children who need supervision during the daytime. Many of these families are foster families with “vouchers,” receiving funding from the government for children to attend daycare.
Jennifer Mills, the family and children’s minister at Downtown, recognized this need in Searcy and saw the opportunity for the Downtown building to be used. Downtown renovated their children’s wing in 2018 to accommodate the growth of the church and to prepare for future opportunities of building use. She said they are blessed with the state-of-the-art facility but were wary of how often it sat empty. In spring 2022, after various conversations with leaders in the community, Mills reached out to ARcare to invite them into Downtown’s space.
“We think there is no better way for us to be obedient and to be in relationship and to make disciple-makers of others, than to minister to the least of these,” Mills said.
Usually, the ratio of children at an ARcare facility is one-third voucher children, one-third private pay and one-third employee children. Mills said she hopes the Downtown facility will be able to host two-thirds or three-fourths of “voucher” children so daycare can become more accessible for foster families in White County.
Winston Collier, the chief legal officer at ARcare, said about $1.5 million has been allocated for this specific partnership. The money will help move forward the process of hiring staff and updating a few facility needs at Downtown. He said he looks forward to this collaboration that is a model to White County of serving the people who need it most.
“When community partners come together, each bringing their own skill set to benefit the lives of children that might not otherwise have that opportunity, it brings all of us such great joy to see that happen,” Collier said.
Shanna Jones, an instructor of family and consumer sciences, said she is excited for Harding students to connect with the new partnership. In the future, ARcare and Downtown hope to invite Harding students from different departments such as child life, communication sciences and disorders and social work for observation hours or internships.
“It’s really cool that three totally different entities are working together to make something happen that they all wanted to happen, but none of them could do it by themselves,” Jones said.
Starting in January, Mills plans to open the daycare with 75 children ranging from toddlers to kindergarten.