CARTHAGE, Ill. — When Belynda Allen moved to Hancock County going on two years ago, she looked forward to extended visits from her grandchildren.

But the Hancock County Economic Development executive director knew she would need child care for the kids when she was working and finding it proved to be a challenge.

Talking about her concern with friends Jane and Dennis Stubblefield — who own child care/early education centers in Mahomet and Manhattan and have connections to the area because she’s a Carthage native — led to an offer to help establish one in Hancock County.

“It morphed into a really big project. It’s going well,” Allen said.

There’s still much work to be done — including hiring a director — but Allen hopes to see the project finally come together, hopefully within the next six months, thanks to a countywide effort.

“It’s just people trying to do what’s best for their community and really working together and trying to make this happen,” Allen said.

“Our hope is that our center will become a model for all rural areas who are experiencing the same issues in providing safe and affordable child care and education services for children and families, and a sustainable model for the community to support.”

Plans call for serving children of all ages, including infants, and offering both before- and after-school care.

Expanding child care services has been an ongoing priority, and a challenge, for Carthage Community Development Director Amy Graham.

“There is a great need in the county for additional child care,” Graham said. “Unless you have extended family that lives in the area, someone who can help take care of the kids, even with our wonderful home day care centers, it is still tough. It’s just a problem all over.”

Beyond the challenges for parents, businesses also can struggle if a community doesn’t offer adequate child care.

“We’ve got the two largest employers in Hancock County right here in Carthage, Memorial Hospital and Carthage Vet Service, and they find it challenging to attract employees at all levels if there’s not adequate child care in the community,” Graham said.

An unsuccessful effort to expand child care availability some six years ago focused on a former Carl Sandburg College education center across the street from the middle school — the same building on Buchanan Street, or Ill. 136, still under consideration.

Now owned by a Carthage businessman, the building offers a convenient location with easy access and close to schools. “A lot of things a center would need are already there. It still requires some remodeling,” Graham said.

“We’ve kind of come full circle with it,” she said. “I feel very optimistic. We seem to have the right people in the right place at the right time, but there’s still a lot of unknowns.”

There’s also a lot of challenges facing the potential business, including staffing and sometimes daunting requirements, especially in a small community setting.

“I hope it does happen,” Graham said. “It would be a great asset for our county. It would assist our employee base and provide that service to our families.”

Allen sees providing adequate child care and education as a way for Hancock County communities to continue to grow and thrive.

“This will help not only the larger employers in Hancock County to finally be able to offer their employees a quality and safe place for their children to learn and be safe in a place that is close to them as they work but will also provide small businesses and their employees with the same peace and stability,” Allen said.

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