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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 23, 2002 - Issue 55


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Day Care is Trendsetter for Navajo Nation

by Steve Devitt Farmington Daily Times
credits: Navajo Little One by Ray Swanson
Navajo Little One by Ray SwansonNAVAJO, NM - A day care center in this tiny community has become a trend setter on the Navajo Nation, pulling millions of dollars in grants in the last decade and become a model for other day care centers on the reservation.

"The tribe wants to privatize its day care center services," Marsha Smith said, "and they tell the people who are running those centers to look at Little Folks.

Smith is the director of Little Folks Daycare, Preschool & Community Services, a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1991 in space provided by Shepherd of Lutheran Valley Mission.

From that humble beginning, it has moved into its own building, employs 21 or more people and operates on a budget of approximately $350,000.

"This building cost $229,439," Smith said, "and 19 cents."

Smith can rattle off numbers, because she spends about 10 percent of what she calls her 25-hour days writing grant proposals. That, she said, was in addition to doing everything from "doing the quarterly reports, payroll and plunging the toilet."

She is an enthusiastic woman, who said that her friend, the founding director Kathleen Norton founded Little Folks in 1991 because "we recognized a need in the community."

Norton was able to establish the nonprofit status of the organization and Smith joined the staff in 1994 as the office manager. She became director in 1997.

When enrollment at the day care center reached 15, Norton hired Debbie Bia, who still works at the center.

Norton also wrote the first successful grant for the program, a $6,000 windfall from the Save the Children Foundation.

Since the center, which serves children from 6 weeks to 13 years of age, has moved to his own building - paid for by a grant - complete with a computers for the kids in its resource room, a handsome playground, kitchen facility.

Little Folks also utilize the nearby community center to house it after school program for elementary school-age children. Smith said there were 42 children enrolled in that program, while there are about, and 85 to 90 younger children during the school year.

The center serves families in Navajo, and from Red Lake, Ariz., Crystal, Wheatfield, Ariz., Sawmill, Ariz., and Fort Defiance, Ariz. chapters.

"We're unique because we operate year round," Smith said. "Parents have to work and go to school in the summer, too."

She said the center makes it possible for parents to go to school and improve their lot in life.

About half of the $168,000 from the Navajo tribe comes in the form of day care payments provide by the tribe for tribal members who fall within certain financial parameters. However, Smith said she tries to help financially strapped parents who do not meet the requirements.

The children can receive breakfast, lunch, a snack and dinner.

The center also provides bus service - it has a 32-passenger and 22-passenger bus and a 10-passenger van - to local Headstart programs.

"We have an extensive bus schedule," Smith said.

Last year, the center received $149,140 in state grants and a total of $168,938 in grants a child-care subsidy payments from the tribe.

Smith moved to Fort Defiance as a sophomore in high school in the 1960s. She attended Northern Arizona University and then married her high school sweetheart, Roscoe Smith, and the couple moved to Navajo where he was employed at the sawmill.

Roscoe Smith has been the pastor at Navajo Baptist Church for the past 17 years.

"We've always like this community," Smith said.

The lion's share of the budget goes to payroll, $252,316 last year. The center also provides four jobs through the tribes youth employment program - that number goes up to as many as 10 for the summer program.

Smith is very choosy about her employees.

"They have to be responsible, reliable and they have to work well with the children."

She said the philosophy of their service was that every child was a creation of God "and deserves quality care."

Smith is already planning her next grant - for another building that will be located adjacent to the present facility.

Navajo, NM Map

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