Nestled on the corner of 49th and Wilkeson, directly across from Angelo Giaudrone Middle School, lies Sprouts Growth Center, the only 24-hour 7-day a week childcare facility in Washington, and possibly on the entire West Coast. With rates as low as $6 per hour for drop-in, the center creates a supply for the incredible demand for affordable childcare. Only 3.2 miles from UW Tacoma, this facility provides yet another option for students at the urban-serving campus.
Owner Cathy Vance explains that families with fixed or low incomes receive an incredible rate, citing examples of one mother with a baby girl enrolled who pays $750 per month when competitive childcare centers ask upwards of $1,200-$1,500 per month, or a father with a five-year-old enrolled who pays $520 per month when KinderCare wanted more than $800 per month.
The 15,000-square-foot building houses multiple play rooms, an art center, an outside playground, as well as a full kitchen and dining area and bedrooms for children who stay overnight. But the entire facility is not dedicated to the one-month to 12-year-old children; the other half of the building is reserved for Vance’s other baby, the Family Growth Center, which she explains is “Pierce County’s first and only supportive living home for 13-17-year-old unaccompanied youth.” One wing of the building houses 24 teenagers with no where else to go, offering them warm meals, a roof over their heads, educational opportunities, and counseling with only one stipulation – they attend church once a week.
Vance’s organizations are Christian-based, working to “redeem and restore compromised families through hope & healing,” according to their website. While the Christian influence is subtle – Christian pop music softly playing in the foyer and scripture written on a white board in the hall – it may be enough to deter community partnerships, or even publicity for the work they do. “Did you know that there are no organizations that house homeless teens in our county?” she asks, and as I shake my head she says sadly, “Not one person I ask does.”
She blames the lack of publicity on their Christian base, explaining that, “the Youth Coalition has been working for 17 years, meeting monthly, trying to solve this problem, but they won’t acknowledge we exist because we’re Christian.” Regardless of their religious affiliation, the main objective of the center is to meet the needs within the community. Family Growth Center works to teach responsibility, tutoring kids in financial planning and teaching them how to become productive citizens with a strong work ethic.
They believe in the idea of “sweat equity” which, according to their website, requires youth to participate in a “vocational trade program 25 hours a week, counseling workshops five hours a week, and goal-setting/life skills for 10 hours a week,” implemented throughout the year. Vance knows it’s the big picture that’s important, as well as helping them in the present: “It’s about giving them purpose and value in life, but also, not using federal money creates an environment for the teens that they realize I’m not here to get a paycheck from someone… I haven’t gotten a paycheck in over two years.”
Parents sign over custody to Vance, relinquishing all rights, which leaves her legally liable for the children in her care and allows her to put them in school, take them to the doctor, and also eliminates the necessity for licensure. Foster care and other state-run programs require licensure and receive government funding, but Family Growth Center receives no funding from anyone (emphasis Vance’s). Instead of relying on inconsistent government money and funding which could be pulled on any given day, Vance has created her own revenue stream.
At 50, she felt guided to go back to school and now, three master’s degrees later and a doctorate in progress, she has created this conglomerate of public services including Sprouts Growth Center, Family Growth Center, More Than a Carpenter (a handyman service which mows lawns, does minor renovations, painting, moving, hauling, etc.), a cleaning/housekeeping business called Clean Sweep, and Blessings Galore thrift store. These businesses not only provide services for the community and employment, but also generate revenue to run the non-profit portions of the center. Vance’s past has perfectly prepared her to create and nurture these various ventures, having a history of running a daycare for 10 years, a restaurant for five, working as an electrician for two years, and earning her degree in business management sales and marketing. Working hard to provide her own financial security, Vance smiles as she says, “Donations are gravy, but the mashed potatoes are right here.”
Donations have played an integral part in facilitating growth and comfort within the center though, with community businesses reaching out to support the work Vance is doing. Every year, on the second Thursday of May, Keller Williams organizes their RED Day (an acronym for Renew, Energize and Donate) to serve “worthy organizations and causes,” and this year they chose Family Growth Center. On May 8, over 60 professionals, ranging from plumbers and electricians to contractors and real-estate agents, came together to help renovate the building which will house the new, expanded center. Ashley Furniture donated 32 twin Tempur Pedic beds, plus frames to support the older beds donated by other community members. Even students at the Art Institute donated over a year of time to create logos, brochures, business cards, and the webpage to help the center create a brand so that when people see the graphics and the green, blue and orange that is incorporated into most of the designs, they will think of Family Growth Center, “Kind of like Nike,” Vance laughs, referencing the famous Swish.
In the year and a half since they have opened, hundreds of women and children have come through their doors. They’re able to expand, adding two more childcare centers in the Tacoma area, and moving to a new home. Their new center at 26th and Pearl – which used to be the Highland Hills Dementia Center – boasts almost twice the space at 26,000 square feet. The location will also host Vance’s newest enterprise, The Spread Cafe and Catering. All of the businesses connected and related to the center work to incorporate the teens living there, teaching them job skills they can use in the workforce.
Like-minded people help Vance keep the center running, employees ranging from people hired after completing the program to professionals interested in supporting the mission of aiding youth in need. The ratio between paid employees and volunteers is at 50/50, with the team working together to accomplish the ambitious goals and aid in the rapid expansion, but Vance says support from the county would help immensely. Aside from financial support, she would just like to see the word more widely spread, making sure teens and young adults know the option is there, the facility is there, to help them when they need it.