UWNEMN partnership helps Rainy River Rugrats expand

In a little over a year, Brittany Lemieux went from being faced with a tough decision – quit her job due to a lack of childcare for her newborn or hope an infant care spot would open before her maternity leave concluded – to helping alleviate the local childcare shortage herself by opening Rainy River Rugrats with Danyelle Deedrick.

She quickly learned she wasn’t alone.

“We had a higher demand for infant care than we first initially thought,” she said. “We decided to expand by two and needed two cribs to meet licensing requirements.”

As luck would have it, at the same time Lemieux and Deedrick identified a need for cribs, Backus Community Center Executive Director Lois Lundin received an email from United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN). The organization serves all of Koochiching County and had reached out to its funded partner agencies, including Backus, about a number of infant and child items available through its Comforts of Home program.

“Our community has a dire need for quality daycare, and this new daycare filled quickly upon opening,” Lundin said. “I saw that this (UWNEMN’s email) was an opportunity to help a brand new service meet more of their start-up needs and to help them open up capacity to care for more children.”

Lundin connected Lemieux with UWNEMN, and days later Rainy River Rugrats was at UWNEMN’s Chisholm building picking up two new cribs, a safety gate, a play kitchen, diaper pail, and a chalk board.

UWNEMN’s Comforts of Home program primarily provides home essentials to families and individuals in crisis. Select Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Walmart stores donate unsold product to UWNEMN where the products are organized and housed. Families and individuals in need are referred to the program by caseworkers through UWNEMN’s website. The program is also available to UWNEMN partner agencies.

UWNEMN Executive Director Erin Shay said she is “thrilled” to see the recent impact of the Comforts of Home program in Koochiching County.

“This is the kind of long-lasting change we hope to make with our programs and partnerships,” Shay said. “It’s especially meaningful to us that this particular partnership is helping expand childcare – that’s been a huge goal of ours since our 2013 needs assessment with Wilder Research helped quantify the childcare shortage in our region.”

Likewise, Lundin said Backus Community Center, which houses Rainy River Rugrats, is delighted about the partnership.

“Backus is committed to helping these new business owners succeed,” she said. “…[We are] very grateful to partner with the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota and other local service providers to support the people of our region.”

Rainy River Rugrats is currently operating at full capacity in each classroom. While Lemieux recognizes the need for childcare in the area is “huge,” she feels hopeful thanks to start-up grants and the support of organizations like Backus and UWNEMN.

“We are hoping to be able to expand even more in the future and be able to provide more care,” she said.

To learn more about UWNEMN's Comforts of Home program, click here