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Hours expanded at daycare

HUGULEY — Monday was a special day for the Learning and Growing Child Care Center, located off Highway 50 in the former Designs R Us building. The new center opened in mid-August on a part-time basis with hours being from 8 a.m. until noon Monday through Friday. Following the recent approval of state licensing, the daily hours have now expanded to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. EDT.

“We were open for four hours a day until our license was approved by the state,” owner Buffie Jones told The Valley Times-News. “That allows us to have longer hours each day.”

The Learning and Growing Child Care Center is Christian-based. There’s a chapel service every Wednesday morning, and local ministers come to tell Bible stories to the children. The center has a transit van to pick up children at the end of the day at their local elementary school and transport them to Learning and Growing. They can be there until their parents pick them up past 6 p.m.

A total of 50 children have enrolled thus far, and they range in age from six weeks to 13 year-olds. Harlee Crowder, the director, supervises ten teachers in six classrooms. There’s an infant room, a room for one-year-olds, one for two-year-olds on up to the older children. There’s a pre-K program, a gym, kitchen and a large fenced-in outdoor play area.

Now that licensing has been approved, Jones and Crowder will be hiring a cook to prepare breakfast, lunch and snacks.

“We are much farther along than we expected to be at this point,” Jones said. “We have had a wonderful support structure from our husbands, Bart Jones and Shaun Crowder. Randall Lynn Construction did a great job of remodeling the interior. Anyone who had a chance to look at it when they started and then see what it looks like now are most impressed. They did great work for us, and we are pleased with it.”

Jones and Crowder said that they have always wanted to run a childcare center.

“I felt at one point earlier this year that the Lord was leading me to do this,” Jones said.

“That same day Harlee contacted me out of the blue and asked me if I had ever thought about having a child care center. I knew then that we were doing what God wanted us to do. I invited Harlee to my home to talk about it. We hit it off at the start. We knew that we were both committed to doing this for children, to give them an environment where kids can be kids. That’s vital.”

Jones said she was getting restless and frustrated during the coronavirus shutdown.

“My husband told me that I should do what God wanted me to do,” she said. “That same day Harlee texted me about opening a new daycare center, and here we are.”

Learning and Growing started off with 50 children but could expand up to 90.

“We are now ahead of the game in what we want to do,” Jones said.

“What you see here looks really nice, and we are proud of it, but believe me there has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into it,” Jones added. “We have sacrificed, and our families have sacrificed. We started planning at home in April. Architect Steve Taylor of Birmingham did the floor plan for us. The interior work started in June. When we started remodeling, it got up to 110 degrees inside the building on those hot, summer days. You learn who your true friends are when you do something like this. Our kids, Reni Rose Crowder and Hayley Crowder and Colton Jones, went through what we did. They helped install ceiling tiles and toted stuff to the trash can. Their little handprints are as much in the final product as ours are.”

At a recent open house program for the Valley Lions Club, Jones asked people to keep praying for the new child care center.

“COVID is still with us,” she said. “We want all our children to be healthy and safe. There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. We feel like we have that at Learning and Growing. The way we look at it, it’s the kids we have that make everything we do worthwhile.”

Something the parents like is that Jones has a nursing background.

“Parents can be self-assured that their kids are in good hands,” said Crowder. “Having an owner with nursing experience is a strong plus when it comes to keeping children safe.”

“We are for working parents,” Jones said. “We provide great child care for parents who live in the local area but work out of town.”

Jones has 11 years of experience in child care and Crowder has eight years of experience.

“We formerly worked together at the Fairfax Baptist Church Wee School,” Jones said. “That was a wonderful place, but it has been closed.”

The transit van is a big asset to the center.

“We can pick up children at the end of the day at their elementary school and bring them to our center, where they can be until their parents can pick them up later in the day,” Crowder said.

Buses from Huguley Elementary and W.F. Burns Middle School are dropping off students there as well.

’We have talked to lots of parents of young children, and we think there is a huge need for this right now,” Jones said. “Children are like sponges. They can soak up a lot, either good or bad. It’s important to offer them a Christian-based experience including scripture, Bible study and Wednesday morning chapel. We want all our kids to have a well-rounded experience here.”

The gym area is quite spacious. Up to 25 children can be there at one time.

“We also have virtual learning in the gym,” Crowder said. “We are not school teachers, but we have lots of respect for those who are.”

The children have already made a contribution to the school in the form of wall art.

They have written their names and Bible verses throughout the building. The entire interior has a bright, child-friendly look with depictions of smiling kids everywhere.

Learning and Growing didn’t come together overnight.

“We looked at 15 different buildings, including one that had been a haunted house on Halloween,” Jones said. “Chris Busby of the Chambers County Development Authority was really helpful to us through the process. The building’s previous owners, Chris and Denise Clark, have been great to work with. We appreciate local pastors being willing to take part in our chapel services. We intend to be as involved in the community as we can be.”

“Our parents have been very supportive of us, and so are our families,” Jones said. “My son is 11 and has told me it’s great that I am making my dream happen. He’s right about that.”