GrandKids Child Care Center celebrates 40 years |

GrandKids Child Care Center celebrates 40 years

On-site child care provides boost to medical center employee recruitment, retention

UCHealth GrandKids Child Care Center early childhood teacher Emily Ndawula, 27, was a student herself at GrandKids a quarter century ago.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

When she was student at GrandKids Child Care Center in Steamboat Springs a quarter century ago, Emily Ndawula remembers feeling safe and content to go to school each day. She knew her mom, a nurse, worked just next door at Doak Walker Care Center at the former Routt Memorial Hospital.

Now, Ndawula, 27, works as an early childhood teacher at UCHealth GrandKids and is helping young children feel just as secure.

Ndawula remembers during her three years attending the center playing outside a lot, taking field trips and learning to ski via GrandKids through the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club at Howelsen Hill. She enjoyed the chance to have lunch with her mom many days, and she has friends now who were preschool classmates.

The teacher’s early experiences are a mainstay for GrandKids for generations of children since November 1981. This week, GrandKids celebrates its 40th anniversary of providing child care and preschool for local families.

According to the Yampa Valley Medical Center Foundation history website, GrandKids was the first child care center located inside a skilled nursing facility in Colorado. The name came from the fact that each child ages 2 1/2 to 5 was paired with a “special friend” from the Doak Walker extended care facility next door. That partnership tradition continued until Casey’s Pond opened in fall 2013. These days, when the COVID-19 pandemic allows, children from GrandKids visit Casey’s Pond three times per week for activities, like music and dance performances, games of balloon volleyball, ice cream socials and watching short movies together.

GrandKids is one of only two large licensed centers in Routt County that serve infants starting at age 8 weeks old and toddlers, and is the only on-site day care center in the UCHealth system, said Jessica Carroll, center director for two years, who earned a master’s degree in early childhood leadership. The children are offered breakfast and lunch made by the hospital’s cafeteria.

Some 95% of GrandKids’ enrollment are children of YVMC staff.

“Having GrandKids on-site is a greatly valued benefit and positively impacts recruitment and retention for our candidates and employees,” said Mary Wirta, YVMC human resources manager. “While some classrooms, such as the infant room, have a longer waiting period, for other classrooms, the waiting period is not as long, such as the preschool classroom. All though GrandKids may not always capture 100% of the child care needs for our staff, they do an incredible job working to support our staff and their needs, which has positively impacted our ability to fill positions and keep staff in those positions.”

Working nursing mothers often walk next door to GrandKids to breast feed their babies. Part-time or full-time staff at YMVC receive a significant discount on tuition since the center is subsidized by the hospital “as a critical investment to ensure child care is available for staff,” said Lindsey Reznicek, YVMC communications specialist.

The enrollment includes eight infants with two teachers, eight toddlers with two teachers, 14 early preschoolers and 18 preschoolers. The center, which operates year-round, partners with local organizations to offer parenting classes and to participate in service projects, Ndawula said.

Since Ndawula’s husband is from Uganda, she said the students often read books about kids in Africa and now donate used shoes to African children. Older children at the preschool make wrapping paper to then sell, with proceeds used to donate food to LiftUp of Routt County.

Through the 40 years, the center staff has cared for more than 500 children, and 400 children have completed and graduated from the licensed preschool. Of the 15 GrandKids staff members, 10 have been employees there between 4 and 18 years, Carroll said, and Assistant Director Jenica Walker has served there for more than 17 years.

The director said the center usually stays 99% full with a short waitlist, except for the long wait list for the infant care room.

With everything that has remained the same at GrandKids through the years, one newer addition is a taller fence surrounding the outdoor playground. The previous lower fence was too easy for local moose to step over.

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