Encompass ready to serve Oconto County families

Ribbon cutting June 4 paves way for child care center opening
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

The head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) dropped by the ribbon cutting at the Encompass child care center in Oconto Falls on June 4 to announce a $250,000 grant for the new facility.

“In a state where, you know, sometimes not everybody agrees on everything, there really does seem to be a coalescing around the idea that supporting child care is economic development,” WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes said in announcing the Community Development Investment Grant.

Hughes said the WEDC’s goal is to create an environment where everyone in the community is able to prosper.

“That means we need to remove barriers to folks to be able to get them to work, where they can stay at work, and know that their families are taken care of, that they can afford the care that their families are receiving,” she said, “so it is such an honor to be able to support this effort here.”

The grant was made possible by the support of Oconto Falls and Oconto County leaders because it requires matching commitments from the community, Hughes said.

Encompass is a nonprofit agency that has been providing child care in the Green Bay area for 105 years. The Oconto Falls facility, which is scheduled to open June 10, is the organization’s eighth location and its first outside of Brown County.

Executive Director Missy Schmeling said the addition of the 140 slots in Oconto Falls means that Encompass will now be serving 1,000 children a day.

She credited Jayme Sellen of TEDCOR, the Oconto County tourism and economic development corporation, as well as Scott Shackelford, Debbie Konitzer and Jaelyn Scanlan of Oconto County Public Health, for their help in securing the funding to purchase the former Kaempfer and Associates office at 650 E. Jackson St. in Oconto Falls.

“When I pulled up to here and saw the Kaempfer building and what it provided, as far as the green space and what we could do with it, I thought, ‘I think we can make this work,’” Schmeling said.

A fundraising campaign to generate $3.4 million to acquire and renovate the property is about $150,000 shy of the goal, she said, thanking the donors and friends who believed in the project and brought it to fruition.

“Before we cut the ribbon today, I just want to remind everybody about our shared purpose, meaning that in order for all of us to work effectively, we have to collectively work together, as parents, as educators, community leaders, and most importantly working for our kids,” Schmeling said.

Shackelford said the center’s opening marks a good day for Oconto County.

“The day care desert that was described is not the case here anymore,” he said, also crediting Sellen for getting the partners together to acquire startup funding for the project. “I’ve worked in human services since 1991 and worked with Encompass. They have a great, excellent track record in Brown County, and as you can see it’s carried up through Pulaski and into Oconto County, and they will deliver on the services and the promises that they made.”

Oconto Falls City Administrator Peter Wills said having the Encompass center is critical to attracting and retaining families in the community.

“To not have day care, as was the case for a number of years, is concerning,” Wills said. “People choose where they live, where they work, where they can get their kids taken care of. There’s needs in many communities, but to have that here in Oconto Falls, to have up to 140 seats here is critical.”

He praised Encompass for its partnership with the Oconto Falls School District in providing space for a 4-year-old kindergarten class, as well as its policy of making tuition assistance available for qualifying families to help ensure they don’t pay more that 15% of their household income on child care.

Alexa Priddy, Encompass director of child development, credited Wills with connecting the agency with WEDC and making the new state grant possible.