TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – With so many parents having a problem finding childcare after the pandemic hit, a problem that has continued to this day, churches in Northern lower Michigan are stepping forward to be the solution.

The Traverse City Ticker reports that in the Traverse City area, municipalities like Acme Township and the City of Traverse City in addition to groups like Traverse City Tourism and Traverse Connect have been working to solve the childcare shortage – but now there is a new group of folks stepping up and that is the local churches.

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The Ticker reports that at least three churches have applied over the past weeks to open or expand childcare centers, with one of them intending to partner with a local school. These plans are being put together to alleviate the burden they see in both their congregations and the community.

The churches hoping to provide childcare are Pine Grove Church, which got unanimous approval from the East Bay Township Planning Commission to move ahead. In February, they purchased a nearby building of another former church so that their childcare facility could be separate from the the Pine Grove Church. The new facility will be able to accommodate up to 50 children, infants through 12-year-old children.

In addition to Pine Grove Church, Northern Lakes Community Church in Garfield Township applied for a special use permit from the planning commissioners last week. They want to open a preschool and childcare center in their current building. They would be able to enroll up to 29 children, infants through five-year-old children.

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Even though the church’s small congregation is mostly older congregants, they saw a need in the community that they could address. Rev. Dr. Sam Sungsoo Jun said, “The demand is far exceeding the supply. The more we looked into the need, the more we released we had an opportunity to help…This is a great way to love our neighbors. We really want to help the young families in our community.”

The third church looking into childcare is the Church of the Living God in Garfield Township and they intend to partner with the Traverse City Christian School. In their plans, the school would open an Early Learning Center within the church and would be able to accommodate 100 children, infants through six-year-old children and more than 15 staff members.

Like others hoping to provide childcare services, start-up costs are a burden for the churches. Although the State of Michigan has set up grants for childcare start-ups with a goal to open up 1,000 new childcare programs by the end of 2024, the grant estimates the churches received were very low, not even topping $10,000 so they are going to be relying on private donations and community fundraisers to meet their needs.

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An August Detroit Free Press article outlined the childcare crisis as worse than policy makers had estimated. They reported on childcare “deserts” in 20 counties because they had such few childcare options. Michigan’s Early Childhood Investment Corp (ECIC) said, “It’s clear that families do not have access to childcare to meet their needs.”

Because of pandemic closures, state data showed 637 fewer childcare providers since February 2020 which has resulted in a statewide waiting list of more than 54,000 children.

As of August, the county the Traverse City churches reported above are in, Grand Traverse County, had the longest waiting list of any county which sat at about 3,200 children, with more than 1/3 of their childcare facilities closing during the past three years.