Local families are shocked and frustrated over an unexpected announcement to close the child care center at St. Michael Parish in Olympia.
The parish has decided not to renew a lease agreement for a Catholic Community Services program called St. Mike’s Tikes, which uses the child care space for free at the church, 1208 11th Ave. SE. The center will close by June 18.
Notice was given April 1 to vacate the space within 90 days. CCS sent a letter to parents Tuesday.
At this time, the nonprofit center cares for about 155 total children a year through full-time enrollment and drop-ins. There’s also a waiting list with more than 100 children.
The closure also means unemployment for the center’s director, 15 full-time teachers and four on-call teachers.
The news comes as a surprise to longtime program director Miho Wright, who was told that the growing parish is making the change in order to “focus more fully on its core mission.”
Wright said that 90 days is not enough time to find an adequate facility, much less comprehend the ripple effect of losing a high-quality child care program.
“We will not be able to afford a space that can house 100 children,” she told The Olympian.
Wright started 18 years ago with St. Mike’s Tikes and has been director since 2007. The child care program originated 35 years ago with the parish before CCS took it over in 1987. The parish built an area specifically for the child care center as part of its new design nearly eight years ago.
Wright praised the parish for its support over the years, but was heartbroken at the closure’s impact on families and the community. She strived to hire compassionate teachers who would commit to staying at the center despite the child care industry’s high workforce turnover.
The connections have extended beyond child care to help the most vulnerable. For example, the center worked with the local homeless population and helped train people with disabilities. Employees also received full health benefits.
“We’re not just a day care,” she said. “We’re contributing to the community.”
Gary Sandwick, CCS family center director for the south region, confirmed that St. Mike’s Tikes will cease operations and cannot survive outside the parish.
Parish administrators did not respond to phone messages.
However, word of the upcoming closure has generated a reaction ranging from frustration to bewilderment local parents who use the child care center. One of those parents, Amanda Maxwell, even signed a Facebook post with #savesaintmikestikes. She has a 4-year-old son who goes to the center, and she was among an estimated 50 parents who attended an impromptu meeting Tuesday evening at the church to discuss the closure.
“It is unconscionable that a church would pull the rug out on an entire community,” the post said, urging St. Michael to “postpone this devastating decision.”
Patrick Holm of Boston Harbor attends the parish and has taken both of his daughters to St. Mike’s Tikes since they were four months old. One daughter is now 2 and a half, while the other is eight months.
Holm is confident his family will find another day care. His main concern is for the employees.
“It’s a devastating blow to the people who work there,” he said. “They’re just generally very friendly people and kind of like a second family.”