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Ascension Via Christi Child Development Center celebrates 40 years of families
For the Ascension Via Christi Child Development Center, July 8 ― the day the childcare center for associates and their families opened ― has always been a cause for celebration.
But never more so than this year, as it turns 40.
“While I’ve only been here for two years, most of our staff have served here for more than 10,” says Erica Rubin, the CDC’s director. “We have three associates who have been here since the center opened in 1980 and I look up to them for guidance and experience.”
Those associates ― Terri Wittrig, Gail Shumate and Jane Swindle ― began working at the center before it even opened its doors.
“I was going to vocational school and studying childcare when my mother, who worked at St. Francis, told me about the CDC opening,” says Wittrig, who floats between classrooms working with 1-year-olds to preschoolers. “I applied, got the job and stayed because I love the family atmosphere here.”
The center started out on the first floor of what had been an apartment building and had room for 100 children. With renovations and expansions over the years, it now occupies the first and second floors, and includes a full-service kitchen and play space in the basement when the weather doesn’t allow outside activities in its enclosed playground. Licensed for up to 321 children, the center cares primarily for newborns through preschoolers, but has spring break and summer programs for school-aged children 12 and under.
“While we have updated our facility and added security enhancements and an electronic system for keeping parents updated throughout the day, we still utilize the same play-based learning experiences and traditions used in the first 10 years,” says Rubin.
Annual traditions, such as the summer cookout, Christmas program and Halloween parade, also make the CDC special. “I just love our Christmas program and so do our kids and parents because it involves everyone and gives it that family feel,” says Swindle, the CDC’s manager. “Everyone likes the inclusiveness of the summer cookout because parents can see their kids’ friends and socialize with other parents. Those are special and important for all of us, especially the families.”
The teachers take a special interest in their children, even after they are no longer in their care. “I have had children come back to me as successful adults,” says preschool teacher Shumate. “They’re thankful that I gave them a good start and taught them those necessary social skills. That’s what makes my job so worth it.”
Alyssa Hemberger, who has had three children enrolled at the CDC, was once a child there herself.
“I remember one of the now-retired teachers going out of her way to retrieve a special Lion King hairbrush I dropped down a storm drain,” says Hemberger, who for the past seven years has been a nurse at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. That continues today, she says, “They’ve called to let me know if my kids have left behind their special comfort items.”
Hemberger, who works three 12-hour shifts a week, appreciates the CDC’s flexibility. “In the NICU, babies don’t tell you ahead of time they’re going to need special help, so it’s nice to know the center will make room for my kids if I get called in for an emergency on my on-call days,” she says.
Another plus, her children are comfortable. “My kiddos have always been ‘Mama’s kids’ so they fuss when I drop them off anywhere else except the CDC,” says Hemberger.
As a soon-to-be mother of four, she appreciates the partnership she has with the staff, who she says keep her informed but don’t bother her about little things. “They helped me so much with my first kid as a new mom and that helped set me up for success with my other kids.”
COVID-19 has required the center to make adjustments, such as not being able to host its annual cookout. Additional precautions have been added to its already-extensive cleaning process and other protective measures adopted to ensure a safe environment for children and staff.
Despite the challenges, says Rubin, “We’re working to give them an environment that continues to help them grow and feel comfortable.”
Adds Swindle: “Though things have changed throughout the years, especially in the last six months, we’ve always felt like we’re part of a family that cares for its own associates, children and parents.
“The loyalty and support from St. Francis, Ascension Via Christi and everyone involved is why I’ve stayed here as long as I have.”