A child explores the Synergy center. [Zacharia Levine]

In July, Grand County Commissioners awarded $100,000 in grant funds to the local nonprofit Moab Community Childcare. The nonprofit runs a childcare center of its own, but also provides resources like staff and funding help to other centers in the area. Childcare access, like housing, is one of Moab’s more pressing issues. 

“91% of women in Grand County with kids under six work,” said Rob Walker, the chair of the Moab Community Childcare board: the national average is 72%. “Almost everybody has to work to live here.”

Walker knows that Moab’s lack of childcare means many parents work less than ideal jobs, like working at night, because they need to care for their children during the day. In March, there were 130 full-time childcare spots available in Moab, but the Department of Workforce Services estimated that for children under six years old, there was a demand for 465 spots; the Department also found that 74% of Grand County’s families with young children have childcare needs. 

“Childcare is a fundamental need,” Walker said. 

Moab Community Childcare has been rapidly growing to meet those needs. The board realized early on that the best way to support childcare in Moab was to support the “whole ecosystem,” Walker said: The organization hired providers to work at both their own center, which provides care for infants ages 0-2, and others in town. 

40% of staff time is dedicated to working at other centers around town through a program MCC calls “Helping Hands,” Walker said. Staff help out by subbing in for providers who need to take a day off, but they’ll also do small tasks like going to the grocery store. 

“I think a lot of providers were on the brink of burnout, or they were already burned out and just surviving,” said Taylor Rutherford, the director of community outreach for Moab Community Childcare. “So I think they’ve been really excited to have someone who can help them … that’s the biggest impact we’ve had, is being able to help people keep their doors open when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.” 

Rutherford is a mother herself—having access to childcare in town, and a center that feels comfortable and fun for her son, “eases my burden,” she said. 

The nonprofit also assists other centers in getting started: they provide advice on licensing and grant applications. Moab’s newest childcare facility, which Moab Community Childcare helped to establish, just opened at the Synergy Company, a local certified B Corporation that creates nutritional supplements. Zacharia Levine, director of people and sustainability at the Synergy Company, said he’s been aware of the lack of available and affordable childcare in Moab since he worked as Grand County’s economic development director a few years ago. 

Members of Moab Community Childcare, Synergy, and the Grand County Economic Development office celebrating the new childcare center. [Courtesy photo]

Opening a childcare facility seemed like an ideal step at the Synergy Company for a few reasons, Levine said: the Synergy company could offer childcare to its employees at a lower cost, incentivizing people to both apply to work at the company and to stay; the company already had a building on its campus that was being underutilized; and opening a center would help create a better community in Moab. 

In early summer, Levine attended a meeting for local childcare providers, put on by the county’s Economic Development Office. There, he connected with Walker and Heather Brooks, who runs the childcare center Red Rock Tots. The three of them partnered up to create the new center at Synergy, and worked extremely quickly: it was operational on Aug. 1. 

The center has spots for 23 children; in December, 16 spots were filled, five of those by children of Synergy Company employees. The center is open from 6:45 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., Monday through Thursday, for kids ages two to five, although a few older kids attend after school, Levine said. 

Brooks said the partnership with both the Synergy Company and Moab Community Childcare has been monumental for her business and her own wellbeing.

Brooks has worked in childcare for her entire career, since she was 16 years old; she opened Red Rock Tots in 2019 as a way to better sustain her family (as a staff member at a center in town, she said, she was earning only $9 per hour, and she is raising two kids). She couldn’t afford to own or rent a facility space, so she ran the business out of homes she rented, which presented a huge challenge: she’s moved homes four times in the past three years. 

“It’s hard because landlords don’t want a bunch of kids running around the house, and not being able to own a home is hard too—you can’t buy a house without making pretty decent money,” Brooks said. But despite the challenge, Brooks wanted to stick with childcare: she loves working with kids, she said. 

“It’s so rewarding for me to be able to teach children in the community,” she said. “… It’s rewarding knowing you could be a child’s safe space, knowing you’re getting to help families, knowing you’re being helpful to the community.” 

Since moving the business onto the Synergy campus, she’s been able to care for more kids for longer, since the building doesn’t share space with her home and she has a small staff. Brooks works the 6:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shift with her sister, and a provider from Moab Community Childcare works the afternoon shift from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 

“I’m really grateful for this opportunity,” she said, “and I’m glad to have this support system.” 

Now, Moab Community Childcare is hoping to expand into the Moab Free Health Clinic’s Community Resource Center. Taylor said she’s been dreaming up other ways for the nonprofit to grow as well: she’s hoping to establish a better childcare system in schools for parents or guardians who work as teachers, and better educate the community on the affordability of childcare in Moab through subsidy programs. She and Walker both have seen immense support from the Moab community in the nonprofit’s mission. 

“Once you get the ball rolling, there are a lot of other people who can help push it down the hill,” Walker said.