By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- The Rev. Michael Ten Eyck could see the writing on the wall when state funding questions and lack of space threatened the preschool program in the Pikeland School District.
He and his congregation at First Christian Church wanted to do something to help maintain services to the area's youngest learners but lacked the appropriate setting -- until a neighboring property came up for sale.
The church's Children First preschool program launches in September, with plans to add a day care center in January at its new administration building at 201 N. Mississippi.
"It's been a ton of work, and still is, but we're very excited to see some doors that have opened, some opportunities, and how the church has stepped up to embrace the vision and bring it to Pittsfield," Ten Eyck said.
Church volunteers worked this week with director Heather Dodd to clean equipment for the day care and put some final touches on the preschool room.
Toys line one wall of the room and a brightly-colored rug ringed with the ABCs makes a statement central to the program: God is Love.
"I'm so excited to get in here and put my room together, have all of my stuff here ready to go," Dodd said. "I'm really excited to put the Bible-based curriculum together with the curriculum I already use."
Dodd, who lived in Pittsfield until third grade then moved with her family to Quincy, has operated a group day care facility offering a preschool curriculum in Quincy since 2002 and is an adjunct instructor in the early childhood department at John Wood Community College.
Morning and afternoon classes are planned for up to 40 3- and 4-year-olds. Three-year-olds will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with classes for 4-year-olds on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Ten Eyck said Children First will utilize a Bible-based curriculum, emphasizing self-esteem, respect, service and self-discipline.
The church incorporated pointers from the school district and worked with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and other agencies in developing the program.
Ten Eyck said the program is pursuing grant support and other funding to help defer program costs.
Plans call for creating a multigenerational volunteer program at the facility.
"We have a lot of older people in the church, a lot of empty nesters, some former teachers with time to give," Ten Eyck said. "Let's create a program in the preschool for people to come in and invest time lacking with so many children, to sit down and listen to them read a book, do face-to-face communication and augment the trained staff."
The new building provided a venue for the preschool and administrative offices for the church, which already has a playground and gym in its Crossroads Center.
"It turned into a great transition space to launch the program, grow the program and in the future deal with other renovations that need to be done in the church building," Ten Eyck said.
An open house will be held Saturday to introduce Children First, the new preschool program offered by First Christian Church of Pittsfield, and director Heather Dodd.
Hours are 9 a.m.-1 p.m. in the preschool wing of the church's administration building, 201 N. Mississippi.
Families considering enrolling a child in Children First are encouraged to attend. More information is available by calling the church at 285-4129.