The Sun News

Cherised Children day care celebrates 50 years serving families in need

Cherished Children, a not-for-profit day care and education center that provides services for lower-income families, has been impacting lives in Warner Robins for 50 years.

Cherished Children celebrated its 50th anniversary this past weekend with a golf tournament fundraiser, a banquet and an open house.

Back in 1960, Jean Coleman, a longtime resident of Warner Robins and a leader in the business community, was attending a Church Women United Fellowship Day program, where she heard a plea from the director of Houston County DFCS for low-cost day care for women on welfare who wanted to work but could not find adequate care for their children.

Coleman and Anita Brown, a fellow member of Church Women United, convinced city officials to permit the use of an older building on Oak Grove Road in south Warner Robins. Warner Robins Day Care opened in 1965 with 20 children, two paid workers and many volunteers. Coleman volunteered there several mornings a week, taking her own preschool children with her.

The name was changed to Cherished Children Education Station to reflect that the center is much more than a day-care center; it is an early childhood learning center that also provides a state certified pre-K program.

To use Cherished Children facilities, parents have to be working or attending school. Fees are based on household size and income. However, the money received from tuition amounts to less than half of what is needed to run the center, according to Debbie Stephens, executive director of Cherished Children. The rest comes from fundraisers and the United Way, she said. The main fundraiser is an annual golf tournament, held this year in conjunction with the 50th anniversary.

Stephens actually attended Cherished Children as a child, when the center was located behind Union Grove Baptist Church.

She remembers Coleman as the lady with white hair, and said Coleman and Jane Gramley, a teacher at the day care, were the first white people she had ever seen.

“I remember what you remember from day care -- not liking nap time, making things. Mrs. Coleman took us on a trip one time to Macon to be on “Romper Room,” and I remember being on television.” Stephens said.

When she applied for the position of director in 2006, her mother mentioned that Stephens had attended there as a child.

“I told her no, I went behind Union Grove to Warner Robins Day Care and my mother said, they have moved and changed the name, but it is still the same place,” Stephens recalled.

She knows firsthand how Warner Robins Day Care can benefit a child and a family.

“My parents were able to work and do more for our family, for me and my little sister,” Stephens said. “I guess I have more invested since I attended here, in getting these kids what they need so they will have the same great memories that I have and so that their lives can be changed like mine was.”

Currently 137 children attend Cherished Children; about 75 percent lives below the federal poverty line, Stephens said. The center has a waiting list. Cherished Children relocated to Myrtle Street in July 2006 and doubled its capacity. A second facility in the Centerville/Elberta area is being renovated to prepare for students.

Stephens said the goal of Cherished Children is to love and teach the children and to get parents to understand the impact they have on their own children’s education.

Because of their own history -- mom might have dropped out of school because of a pregnancy, or have a low reading level -- parents sometimes have difficulties helping their children with their school work.

“If they (the parents) can’t read, they can get angry, embarrassed. We have other organizations, our sister organizations through the United Way, that can help,” said Stephens.

Cherished Children is all about families and in January held its first health fair with seminars on nutrition, spiritual life, financial planning and social and emotional needs.

Cherished Children is open from 6:30 am to 6 p.m. and takes children up to 12 years old, transporting older children to elementary school and Head Start. However, Cherished Children assists some older children as well.

“A 13-year-old girl doesn’t need to be home alone. Older children can come in as mentors, help with homework, read stories, set up crafts, that type of thing. They are helping us, but they are also here with us and not home alone,” Stephens said. “We want to keep them motivated and keep them safe.”

On May 22, Cherished Children is having its annual Field Day, which is a time for anyone who attended to come back and visit. Volunteers are always needed; a background check at the sheriff’s office is required.