“It was a very long process to get officially licensed.”

“It was a very long process to get officially licensed.”

That’s what Misty Riebel had to say about the creation of a new childcare center in Sleepy Eye. Riebel is President of the Board of Directors of Little Sprouts Learning Center, Inc. The organization formed in response to an unexpected announcement late last November, by Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, that the childcare center established in the migrant school building in March 2017 would close in mid-December. That center had been established with assistance and encouragement from the Sleepy Eye EDA, to address a severe shortage of childcare in Sleepy Eye. Tri-Valley said the center was a financial strain on their organization.

The anticipated closing resulted in a flurry of meetings between Tri-Valley, the city and EDA, business people and parents. Tri-Valley agreed to continue operating the center, with EDA support, while a solution was sought.

The solution turned out to be Little Sprouts Learning Center, now up and running for its third week, leasing rooms in the Tri-Valley facility.

“We officially formulated our Board of Directors in January, and it took until Aug. 10 to obtain a license,” explained Riebel. “This licensing process is very formal, requiring a very large quantity of rules and regulations to be made and revised, and revisited again, according to the Department of Human Services (DHS) requirements. The building inspection, fire marshal inspections, health and human services inspections, and inspections completed by DHS, all require additional time prior to obtaining a license. Our staffing needed to be in place, as well as all of the items required by DHS needed to be purchased and in place, prior to obtaining a license.”

Riebel said she is often asked about the amount of paperwork involved with getting a center up and going. “Being quite frank,” she said, “there is a very large amount of redundant and repetitive paperwork to complete as a part of the DHS licensing process.”

Why did Riebel and the other board members do all this work? She said even though the entire process was very time consuming, it was an ultimate necessity for the community.

“Our businesses and area organizations wouldn’t be as successful if their staff didn’t have a place to care for their child while they work,” said Riebel. “The board came together and was able to get each item adequately written per DHS standards and approved for formal licensure. When working with and caring for small children, we wanted to ensure we have highly qualified staff and were ready to go when we were set to open.”

An important part of the staff equation was the hiring of Center Director Joy Wiese, who came on board shortly before Little Sprouts Learning Center opened on Aug. 13. Wiese drives to Sleepy Eye each day from her home in Franklin. A former family childcare provider many years, Wiese most recently worked as a special education paraprofessional for the Cedar Mountain school district.

Wiese admits she has the fun part of helping care for the little children, without experiencing the long paperwork process to get licensed. Of course, now she has the normal paperwork duties for the center. “I also help in the classrooms as needed,” said Wiese. That might mean subbing for an absent staff person, or just spending some time in a room when extra hands are needed. Or, make that extra arms—Wiese said she especially loves helping with the infants.

Wiese praised the dedication and loving care provided by the staff at Little Sprouts. She said they are still accepting applications for teachers, assistant teachers and aides to work in the infant, toddler, and preschool rooms.

Wiese and Riebel said the infant room is at capacity for the next year, with incoming little ones and expecting little ones. “Our toddler room is at capacity with the staffing we currently have,” said Riebel. “Once our second toddler room teacher re-joins us in December, after completing her final internship this semester, we will have an additional seven toddler room spots open. Our Preschool room is currently at the capacity we are able to have with the staffing we have as well. Once additional staff members are hired, we will be able to open an additional 10 preschool spots.” Wiese pointed out that Little Sprouts’ preschool is a kindergarten-ready program.

“We are excited to be able to offer this service to the community,” said Riebel. “We are in our third official week of operation and have worked to get into a better flow and groove with the staff and students. We are making our space our home, there is no intention to leave, until we look for bigger space to expand in the future. We look forward to partnering with any community business or organization that desires to partner in order to keep our classrooms up-to-date with various educational learning opportunities.”