Grace Noah's Ark offers Christ-based child care
By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer
Directors Dot Smith and Mary Jane Benavides have put their natural love of children to work to benefit a whole slew of Bandera County's most adorable kids in their years of service at Grace Noah's Ark Learning Center.
The day care started as a Mother's Day Out program of Grace Lutheran Church and has continued to grow and expand its services through the years.
Smith has been GNA's director for seven years. Benavides has worked at the day care facility since 1986 with various responsibilities. She is very near to completing the schooling needed to be certified as a director. Both women see their work as more than a job, it's a mission.
GNA is Bandera County's only full-time nonprofit day care facility. They are licensed to handle 119 children and currently have 75 children enrolled. Those include armfuls of cute babies as well as 12-year-olds who catch the bus for school in the mornings and do their homework in the afternoons.
The staff is fully trained and professionally certified. Smith, Benavides, and teacher Anna Sarabia have had their Child Development Associates certification since 2011. The staff's 12 teachers are trained in CPR and first aid as well as other Texas child care workers' requirements. Each staffer has to complete 30 hours of in-service training every year to maintain their status.
In addition to raising her own family, Smith and her husband were foster parents for 15 years. She worked in day care facilities in Boerne before taking the directorship at GNA. "I love working with children," she says, simply, amidst the sounds of children laughing, crying and generally doing all those noisy things children do.
Benavides says "it's fun working in a Christian environment. It's so positive."
Learning programs at Noah's Ark are Christian based. "They learn their ABCs, their numbers and colors, all the basics, so that when they go to pre-K or kindergarten they are ready," said Smith. "The children learn Bible verses and Christian songs. And Pastor Dorn comes over for chapel once a week. They all love him."
That may not be as unique a compliment as you might think! Benavides said, "These kids just love everybody. They run up and give you a hug and say, 'I love you!' and 'You are so beautiful!'"
Grace Noah's Ark is located at 467 Highway 173 North, next to Grace Lutheran Church. The learning center opens at 7 am. They can be reached at 830-796-4722.
They serve the children breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. There is also a supper program called "At Risk" for children who need to stay late and then go to other activities like sports without a chance to go home to eat.
Smith is proud that the center earned four stars in the Texas Rising Star program this year. "We'd earned three stars every year for several years, but this year we got all four stars."
A Texas Rising Star (TRS) provider voluntarily meets criteria that exceed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services child care licensing minimum standards. To earn four stars the provider must provide smaller than minimum standard group sizes, have written program goals and objectives for curriculum and activities, have positive caregiver-child interactions, and appropriate indoor and outdoor environments and materials. They must also meet or exceed other standards.
The Four Star rating is the highest TRS rating.
TRS providers offer a higher quality of care, which benefits children and their families. Child Protective Services children may only be placed with TRS providers.
Smith compliments her staff for their flexibility. "No two days are ever the same," she said, "and we have to be prepared to do everything."
The welfare of the children is the priority for everyone on the staff. "We want every child to be safe and happy," said Smith. That priority relies in part on maintaining a good line of communication with the parents.
When Smith looks at her young charges, she not only sees them as they are now. She sees them as they will be. "I love seeing the joy on the children's faces, knowing that we're supplying them with something lasting. When they leave here they will know there is a God that loves them, they'll know the difference between right and wrong. And they'll grow up to make a better community for all of us."