Big funds for Little Knights

Dysart Little Knights Learning Center kicks off capital campaign

Students from the LIttle Knights Learning Center revealed during an open house celebration on July 7 that $831,790.45 had been raised toward the day care center’s goal of $1.4 million for the construction of their new facility on Clark Street. The building, pictured behind the students, is slated for an Aug. 1 grand opening. Photo courtesy of Amperage Marketing

Little Knights Learning Center announced at a July 7 open house celebration that it has raised almost $850,000 toward a $1.4 million capital campaign for a new day care center in Dysart.

Since 2018, the day care has been housed within Dysart-Geneseo Elementary and has outgrown the piecemeal facility that was originally meant as a jumping off point for the child care provider. In recent years, the day care has been at enrollment capacity with a waiting list and relies on shared facilities like the elementary cafeteria to hold after-school programs and an off-site kitchen to prepare meals.

Iowa leads the nation with 75 percent of parents of children under six years old working outside the home. These parents struggle to find safe, accessible and affordable day care, as 42% of child care businesses closed in Iowa within a five-year period before the onset of the pandemic. According to the Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral, 28 percent of Iowa communities have no child care centers.

With lending assistance from the City of Dysart as well as Farmers Coop Telephone Company (FCTC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a new 6,400-square-foot facility for the Little Knights Learning Center has been constructed over the past year and projects to be open Aug. 1. Huff Contracting of Waterloo was awarded the construction contract last year and has been progressing steadily toward the August deadline.

The $1.4 million capital campaign, titled “Today’s Children, Tomorrow’s Dysart”, will go to satsify the loans taken out to build the new building on Clark Street near D-G Elementary. A silent phase of the fundraising campaign has thus far brought in $831,790.45 through pledges, grants and in-kind donations.

The event last week was the official kickoff of the public fundraising campaign that will need to bring in around $568,000, or roughly 40 percent of the overall goal.

“With a day care desert in rural Iowa communities, the new Little Knights Learning Center will ensure a continuum of education for our children to learn with their hometown friends from Pre-K through 12th grade,” Dysart Mayor Tim Glenn said. “On behalf of the City of Dysart, we are happy to have supported this project from the beginning, having recognized this need in our community.”

The new building will reduce the waitlist for child care by increasing Little Knights’ capacity from 69 to 85 children. It will feature a full kitchen, five classrooms, playground, recreation center and other resources.

Glenn also highlighted the project as a catalyst for economic development in this rural community and stated the need to keep young families around.

“Investing in our smallest residents pays big dividends later,” said Glenn. “The future of our small town depends on the families who live here. Making a long-lasting commitment to having a high-quality child care center in town improves our citizens’ quality of life. It paves the way for Dysart to be a place to grow, attract to new businesses and retain young families.”

For a rural community like Dysart that is relatively close to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area, there remains potential for new families to send kids to other communities for child care if it’s not available locally. The concern would be that if that happens too frequently, young families might also enroll those children in other school districts and begin to erode the enrollment and vitality of the Union Community School District.

Eric Taylor, Little Knights campaign volunteer and Farmers Coop Telephone Company (FCTC) board member, spoke at the open house and shared why he and FCTC support the capital campaign.

“Little Knights not only fosters local economic development, but it also helps keep young families, that live in town and out on farms, in our community,” Taylor said. “Many Iowa towns of similar size are losing population to larger cities. The day care feeds enrollment into our public schools to keep our elementary and middle school in town. Kids are the future of Dysart. Keeping children in Dysart now will grow Dysart later. Please join me in investing in today’s children and committing to the success of tomorrow’s Dysart.”

Little Knights Learning Center is a non-profit with a 12-member volunteer board. Board members include Aly Goken, Mandy Brown, Kris Cayton, Stacey Dabney, Pete Eikamp, Ian Flores, Peg Hennings, Kristi Martin, Courtney Petersen, Wanda Petersen, Dawn Stoakes and Lynne Ternus.

The center employes 15 staff as well as Learning Center Director Megan Bessman, who care for children ages six weeks to 12 years old.

“Little Knights Learning Center is a great organization and I encourage everyone to join me in donating,” Taylor said. “It’s important that we recognize the hard work that has gone into raising money for this important project and the campaign leadership team that is getting us closer to goal.”

Also speaking at the open house was Taylor Gingrich, one of four campaign chairs and a parent of three children who attend Little Knights. Gingrich is a city council member and his wife Sarah is an owner at Pipho and Gingrich Family Dentistry in Dysart.

“My family and our family business are directly affected by having a dependable, affordable day care option here in Dysart,” Gingrich said. “Without it, employees, as well as ourselves, would need to leave town to fill this need, impacting the local successes within Dysart. This is why Sarah and I feel so passionate about this project and have volunteered to chair the fundraising.”

Gingrich gave thanks to the Little Knights board of directors and staff and reported that each of those members had given personally toward the project. Volunteers and day care children then flipped over large cardstock numbers revealing the amount raised to date.

“I want to give a special thanks to our campaign leadership team, board of directors, staff and generous donors, including our lead donor Farmers Coop Telephone Company, who all gave during the quiet phase of the campaign,” said Gingrich. “We would not have come this far without all your help. Thank you.”

Gingrich then called upon other businesses and community members to step up and make a gift to help Little Knights reach its campaign goal.

“Little Knights Learning Center is a place for all families,” said Gingrich. “It provides a continuum of education for our community’s children and an enhanced quality of life for our residents. It boosts economic development and prevents our town from becoming the next day care desert. We hope that you are thrilled by the incredible progress that has been made towards our fundraising efforts.”

Gifts may be made in cash or securities. Matching gifts through an employer can double or even triple the gift. Pledges are encouraged and may be extended over a period of up to three years. Online donations can be made at www.dysartschildren.com