— By Dino Robinson
There was once a time when daycare was a family concern. Likely, a member of the family or close friend would be the caregiver while the parents were at work. Even before the start of World War II, the need for affordable organized childcare was desperately sought, especially in the African American Community.
In 1936, a Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA) sponsored childcare site was located in St. Andrews Church. A year later, the facility moved to First Church of God at 1524 Simpson Street. The program expanded into Foster School in 1940. This early daycare establishment, especially one that supported a segregated center for African American families, ended in 1942.
On July 1, 1944, the centers doors opened
In 1944, the Social Services Chair of the Evanston Women’s Club saw a renewed need for childcare as even more women entered the workforce in support of the War and she took on the daunting task to acquire funding and locations to start a daycare center. After surveying the needs of families and generating a list of families in need of daycare services, Evanston Women’s Club member Helen Peterson garnered the support of both of Evanston’s elementary school districts, then 75 and 76. With help of the district, funds were secured from the Evanston Community Chest, the Lanham Act, and the governing committee to form the Child Care Association (CCA).
The first site for this newly established organization was housed at Bethel A.M.E, Church at the corner of Lyons and Darrow. On July 1, 1944, the centers doors opened and Teacher Lula Flurnoy greeted the first of many children into the center. With the demand for more childcare services, the CCA expanded its services to include Washington School, a whites only branch. The Washington School operation later moved the facility next door into a community center, owned by the school at 944 Ashland Avenue, known then as the Stow House. The CCA again expanded later that year to include a center at the First Church of God at 1524 Simpson Street.
At the end of WWII, the government imposed a six-month period for the CCA to disband or find another supporting agency to continue childcare service. To meet this mandate, the CCA looked to the Community Chest for support. The Chest could only support two facilities.
As a result, the existing Evanston Day Nursery (established in 1936) absorbed the Stowe House center. The Bethel A.M.E. Church center was consolidated into the First Church of God location. The CCA dissolved after writing by-laws to form a new association and set up a permanent rotating board. The Evanston Child Care Association (ECCA) was incorporated November, 1946.
By the mid 1950s, the success of the program and the demand for childcare, resulted in an offshoot program at Foster School for half-day kindergarten students, which facilitated a variety of after school programs in the mid 50s. During the 1950s, the ECCA continued growth at the First Church of God on Simpson Street cared for up to 50 children on a daily basis.
During that time, Mrs. Flurnoy, Mrs. Malone, Mrs. Champion, Mrs. Haith and Mrs. Summerville were the centers four teachers and cook. A part time custodian was also employed and Dr. Elizabeth Hill administered checkups for the children. Childcare fees per child were as little as $2.02 a day.
We try to fulfill the needs of families needing to place their child in day care
By 1959, the concern for facility safety by fire inspectors and the city officials increasing building standards prompted the Community Trust to consider cutting ECCA funds unless the center could find larger and safer facilities. The ECCA board began a search for new space and considered building a new facility during the six-year search period. Finding no suitable solution, the Congregational Church of Evanston offered their school facility to ECCA as a temporary center from November 1966 to 1969. This arrangement satisfied the interests of the Community Chest.
The three-year period allowed ECCA extra time to identify a building that satisfied the needs of both the Association and the City. During the months of May and June of 1967, 100 volunteer campaign workers garnered nearly 500 supporters who pledged $125,000 toward a building purchase. Along with additional funds from the Young Women’s Auxiliary of the Evanston Woman’s Club, the building at 1840 Asbury Avenue was purchased in 1968. In 1969, the ECCA opened their doors as a desegregated childcare facility.
Over the decades, The ECCA (renamed the Child Care Center of Evanston, Inc. in 1994) has continued to expand its services keeping with the mission of providing “affordable day care” for families. In 1972, the Center established the Home Day Care Program with an initial 20 licensed home day care providers.
Today there are 18 homes participating in the centers home day care program. On average, there are about 178 children in both the childcare center (93) and the home daycare centers (85). The need for quality, affordable daycare today is still in great demand. In any given year, the Child Care Center of Evanston has an estimated 25-student waiting list in both the home daycare and the childcare center. Hired in 1998, Former teacher and past Director of the center, Helen Roberts-Evans, stated “We try to fulfill the needs of families needing to place their child in day care, usually finding an opening for their child within a year.”
Approaching its 70th anniversary, the historic commitment of the Child Care Center of Evanston, Inc. long-term, hardworking board and staff has made a valuable contribution to the lives of many families in Evanston.
Source: This article originally appeared in the print version of Shorefront Journal, Summer, 2003. Interview with Helen Roberts-Evans. Encyclopedia of American History, 7th Ed., Jeffrey B. Morris and Richard B. Morris, eds., 1996. The Oxford Companion to American History, Thomas H. Johnson. 1966. Main photo: Class at First Church of God. Teachers: Mrs. Haith, Mrs. Champion, Mrs. Malone, Ms. Flounay and Mrs. Summerville. Photo c. 1955, 20th Century Photo.