Early childhood center to open in former Washburn Catholic school

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Kim Johanik, director of the St. Louis Early Childhood Center is pictured with a bookcase used by her first- and second-grade teacher; it was found in storage at the parish, complete with a handwriting alphabet taped to it. Behind her is the loft she used in college — now being used as a reading nook. (Catholic Herald Photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff
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Kim Johanik knew from a very young age that she wanted to run a daycare. What she didn’t know then was that not only would she run a daycare, but work to establish it in her home town of Washburn. Johanik is the center director for a new daycare being established in the former St. Louis Catholic School building – St. Louis Early Childhood Center (SLECC).

A 2008 Washburn High School graduate, Johanik attended St. Louis School from kindergarten through sixth grade. She went on to earn an early education degree at UW-Stevens Point.

After one year working in a preschool and two years teaching kindergarten, Johanik – an only child – was looking for job opportunities closer to home and her parents in the Bay Area. One weekend visiting, she happened to overhear a conversation Fr. Kevin Gordon was having about a new daycare.

After the St. Louis school closed in 2011 – due to falling enrollment and financial feasibility – the building continued to be heated with water and electricity used for the parish secretary and deacon’s office. The idea of a daycare had been proposed and logistically, could be a more effective use of the empty classroom space.

The process has had its share of challenges, but the director is motivated by a waiting list of more than 50 families. Across the corner from St. Louis, the elementary school opened a daycare last year and has a large waiting list of their own.

According to a realtor Johanik spoke with, new families with young children are moving into the area, due in part to expansion of the local hospital, but also owning their own small businesses or taking over family establishments.

With a budget approved by the parish finance council, Johanik started the licensing process in March 2017. Original blueprints were needed to plan renovations to the 1963 structure. There have been various struggles, and working through the official checklist has exercised the first-time director’s problem solving skills and perseverance.

They are down to the final steps before full approval, but as of early May are still unable to set an official opening date.

“I want the kids; I just can’t take them yet,” Johanik said. She confessed to occasional discouragement, but overrides it with great stamina and vision to see the center open. Her motivation is knowing that SLECC will clearly fill a need. Because she is “so connected with the community again,” the 28-year-old often runs in to parents who have called looking for childcare; she sees and hears the need the center will be able to fill.

The center will have space for up to 50 children – infants through age 12, including before- and after-school care as well as summer. While most of their families have no connection with St. Louis’ parish, Johanik has experienced strong support from the parish community.

“When I say that I need help with something, they’ve come through,” she said, specifically naming St. Louis’s Knights of Columbus council and St. Tabitha’s group. Before Johanik was even hired, the church had set aside a small fund for a potential daycare with the hopes of seeing the building used.

While there has been an abundance of families interested in the center’s services, Johanik still needs to complete her goal of a six-person staff. She is seeking at least one lead teacher and multiple assistant teachers in addition to a kitchen manager. For budgeting purposes, SLECC is seeking to keep staff at part-time employment.

“I’ve been told I have too much patience,” Johanik said. She has appreciated coming back to the area and re-connecting with friends and community members. Johanik called it a sort of “homecoming.”

“It’s just such a perfect setup to me. It’s where I had such a good time at school and I want to provide that here (for others),” she affirmed.

St. Louis Early Childhood Center can be contacted at 715-812-1500 or www.facebook.com/StLouisECC.

Similar scenario in St. Anthony, Park Falls

St. Anthony School in Park Falls had opened a daycare in the church as a feeder for the school’s student population. When the school closed in May 2017, there was discussion about moving the daycare to the school building, where there was more space to develop the program. Given the logistics of state requirements, the move was not pursued but the daycare continued operating because of the need in the community.

Melissa Eitrem was hired as the new director in March 2017; three additional teachers work with her. The center has 15 enrolled infants and toddlers, all from Catholic families.

For more information, visit www.stanthonysparkfalls.com/daycare.html or call 715-762-2024.

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