What started as a nursery for children of Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1952 has grown into Ebenezer Child Development Center, a nonprofit that now has the capacity to serve up to 150 children. But like many schools in Austin that serve primarily low-income families, Ebenezer struggles to attract and retain teachers and maintain a high-quality status. As it celebrates is 65th anniversary on Sunday, December 10, the community around Ebenezer rallies to support the school that has cared for generations of East Austin children.
“We’re on a mission,” said Lavon Marshall, board chair for the school. “We’re meeting a need.”
The cost of childcare in Austin can be as much as a year’s tuition at the University of Texas, said Sue Carpenter of United Way of Greater Austin, but of course, there are no scholarships, grants, or loans that families can seek to help pay for it. According to United Way, a year of childcare in Austin averages $9,734 for infants and up to $18,300 for high-quality childcare in West Austin.
United Way also reports that of the 40,000 low-income children in Austin who need help to pay for early childhood development programs, almost 29,000 go unserved. Cost is the most common barrier.
“Because tuition is going to be too much for some parents, the school has to subsidize at least a third to a half of each child’s tuition,” said Marshall. Many of the families receive tuition subsidies from Workforce Solutions or other sources, but it’s often not enough. Currently, Ebenezer is looking for a grant writer volunteer who can help them apply for funding from foundations, government agencies, and other sources.
Ebenezer has little resources for staff development, but it is currently applying for accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a status only 33 Austin-area schools for young children have right now. With that accreditation will come more families seeking a high-quality school, but it will also come with added expenses of keeping that accreditation.
Currently, Ebenezer is part of United Way’s “Center Project,” a program of its larger Success By 6 initiative, designed to support and supplement the work of 18 early care and education centers serving low-income families. “Schools like Ebenezer are working on providing multiple, quality programs for low-income families, and what they’re saying is that they’re going to take on these families at a subsidized rate and figure out how to make it work,” said Carpenter of United Way. Ebenezer Baptist Church continues to support some of the school’s expenses like paying for the school’s insurance or covering the costs of its trash and recycling pick-up, said Marshall. The church is also currently working on the school’s lighting system and security.
“Ebenezer enables mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers to bring in their children before 9 am, go to work, then come pick up their children at 5:30 pm,” said Marshall. “And now a third of our students come from as far as Pflugerville because they know we have a good program, and we can help.”