For Ruth Kimble, the seeds of a successful education are planted before a student ever reaches the public school system.
On the West Side, though, the crucial step of early education relies heavily on childcare providers that are simply struggling to survive. Through Kimble’s Austin Childcare Providers Network, over 60 providers get the support and infrastructure they need to be able to focus on the children they serve.
“What we do is we offer technical assistance, job training and college education for the providers,” she said. “Our goal is to uplift their programs to a level where they can provide quality care for the children in the community.”
“You’re talking about 62 programs and they’re all small businesses,” Kimble added. “With those 62 programs, there’s lots of structure that needs to happen with running a business. That’s what we do. We develop their structure, provide technical assistance and making sure that they can be sustainable.”
Her driving force is knowing first-hand the support that goes into running an early childcare business.
“I’ve been blessed because many providers, they don’t have a partner that provides support,” Kimble said. “My husband worked with me for 30 years and that support is really important if you’re going to run a business.”
“I don’t want to see businesses fail,” she added. “They often do when you don’t have a support system. That’s what drives me. When I see that there are challenges for providers.”
Having built a strong network of support for the providers to survive, Kimble is now setting her sights on improving and standardizing the quality of education they can provide. The ACPN has developed a collaborative pilot to ensure that children leave early childcare providers ready for kindergarten by creating continuity of learning and practice among childcare providers and the elementary schools the children graduate into.
“We have a lot of kids that don’t have the services they need because there may be special needs,” she said. “We want to be able to identify those children in our care, so they can provide the services that they need so that they can excel and we can align programs from daycare centers, homes, into kindergarten. That alignment is so important because now we’re (jump-)starting the process for kindergarten.”
Through over two decades of work in early childcare, Kimble and ACPN are uniquely positioned to lead the charge, she said, using her relationships to work through the multiple layers of coordination needed with Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kimble and her team have pushed forward with their existing work and the new initiative without pause.
“We worked through the whole process from March to July,” she said. “We took two weeks off in July, we were exhausted. We were serving essential workers. We saw the need. They needed us. We are blessed because we didn’t have any COVID incidents.”
Through it all, the work ACPN does for not only Austin, but the West Side community as a whole is crucial in the future of the youngest generation of residents.
“(The resources) are just not there for them,” Kimble said. “It’s so important that you embrace these communities and try to support them as much as you can because we have so many issues, and now you have even more.”
Learn more about A Better Chicago and the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation’s One West Side initiative: Blackhawks.com/OneWestSide