The Finland Community Nature Childcare Center recently received a $10,000 operations grant from the Northland Foundation, following a similar $26,500 grant from the Lloyd K Johnson Foundation received in February. A Northland Foundation press release stated, “During the 3rd quarter of 2022, the Northland Foundation awarded 30 grants totaling $796,000 to support people and communities for a thriving region. Seven grants were made in partnership with State of Minnesota funding to expand child care in the region, with $95,000 in total going to child care entities in Cloquet, Duluth, Ely, Finland, and Grand Marais.”
The Northland Foundation is one of six Minnesota Initiative Foundations created in 1986 by McKnight Foundation. Northland Foundation’s mission is “To invest in people and communities to support a thriving northeast Minnesota.” Through grantmaking, an operating program, business lending and technical assistance, and special initiatives, the foundation helps people and communities in our region to move forward together.
In support of child care program expansion with funding provided by the State of Minnesota, with support of the Northland Foundation, the Finland Childcare center received $10,000 for early childhood care and education. This grant has been awarded as a general operating fund which will support the center in maintaining their ability to serve families with quality childcare and will also support the center in moving forward and continuing to grow. “My goals are to meet whatever needs are in the community,” says director Elli King.
Through a fair number of community surveys and a general understanding that our region was alarmingly deficient in child care access, the board of commissioners recognized the need in Lake County and so directed the county to make it happen. A grant acquired from Lloyd K Johnson Foundation helped with the assessment of child care needs and feasibility of a child care business in the area. Asking the question, can this model sustain itself? The answer was, YES. Lloyd K Johnson backed this by providing a $26,500 grant to the new childcare center located in Finland. The Lloyd K Johnson Foundation, started in 1975, seeks to “promote access to educational opportunities and to improve the quality of life in the North Shore communities of Cook, Lake and southern St. Louis Counties through grantmaking in the areas of arts and culture, community and economic development, education, the environment and social welfare programs to qualified organizations.”
The Finland Community Nature Childcare is located in the center of the Finland community in the previous county forestry building next to the DNR office. The building and surrounding yard area has been transformed into a nature based childcare oasis, with plenty of engaging activities both inside and outside to facilitate learning and independence for the kids in attendance.
The center has been open a little less than a year and will be applying for a group family license soon. The group family license will allow the center to have a higher capacity of enrollment for both underschool age and children overall. The capacity allowed with the group family license will be 14 youth with 2 care providers present, and the option of operating 5 full days a week. Director Elli King says although child care centers reputedly take one to two years to reach full enrollment, the Finland Childcare is right on track and has grown largely through word of mouth. The center is seeing the growth they expected around the time they expected it. Families are coming from further up the shore to take advantage of such a unique learning experience for their children. “If we continue at this rate of growth, we may be looking for additional staff,” says Elli. Anyone interested in employment can email firstname.lastname@example.org with an attached resume.
Elli has over 18 years experience raising her children and homeschooling out in the north woods. She has come into this structure as a child care provider with a keen intuition and plenty of experience. Elli believes getting kids out into the wilderness is one of the most important things that you can do with them. “Children in my opinion are born for nature, you bring them outside at a young age and they just fit right in. They are entirely ready to engage with the natural world at that age and it’s a beautiful thing to give them the space to do that,” she comments. The children are given opportunities to go out in nature and learn about the natural world that surrounds them. The center focuses on empowering the kids to ask questions, exploring themselves and their environment, as well as providing engaging activities in music, imaginative games, story time, and more.
“The Northland Foundation has been pleasant and easy to work with, we look forward to keeping the relationship open in the future,” says Elli. “As we grow there is a lot of need for funding support. The way that enrollment grows relative to staffing, you can’t always maximize your staff child ratio fiscally, so you need a lot of financial support during the growth period…. Getting the funding was a great relief and I’d say it’s been excellent. All of our supporters I think have made great decisions, because their support is paying off and the project has been successful as expressed by the families that attend everyday. The kids love to come here, they are always happy to arrive, they tell their friends they wanna go back and ask when they are coming again. The parents are really happy that we are here.”
“I just count every day a family brings their child here as a success and super meaningful. Having a place families can bring their children and feel really good about that was the main goal. As a parent that can be hard to find,” comments Elli.
The Finland Community Nature Child Care would like to thank the Northland Foundation for their generous contribution to support them in their mission in serving local families, the Lloyd K Johnson Foundation for their support, as well as private donations that have allowed the center to continue to flourish and grow.