By Amber Mabe
Investing in children means investing in the future. With nearly 60% of children under the age of five in the United States spending at least some time every week in childcare (often 35 hours or more), choosing a childcare provider is an important decision. For Theressa Stephens, owner and director of UR Church Childcare, helping children and their families succeed together is the ultimate goal. “We want to be like family,” says Theressa, “we are part of your village. We are not just here to take care of your child; we are making a very big impact on your child’s life. So we want to make sure they are being set up for success, and we want to show love to kids and their parents.”
Caring for children was a part of Theressa’s life from an early age. With her grandmother taking on the role of neighborhood babysitter, Theressa spent many hours lending a helping hand as she was growing up. While studying at Mount Tabor High School, Theressa opted to be part of a sixth-period co-op program that allowed her to work part time at the childcare center across the street from the school. She continued working with children throughout college, and although she began as an Education major, Theressa ultimately graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration and Management from Winston Salem State University. She spent several years working in the corporate world in banking and later healthcare as a claims specialist, but found herself yearning for a career that would challenge her in a different way.
“Working in banking and health insurance involved a lot of repetition,” says Theressa. “But with children, no day is like another. I love to see children grow and succeed.” In March of 1998, with the encouragement of her family and friends, Theressa turned in her resignation and started Church Daycare in her own home. What began with two children soon grew to eight, and then to twelve when Theressa became licensed as a Small Center in a Residence and was able to hire her first three employees. Church Childcare continued to grow, and in 2004 they began work on a brand new facility. “We had parents who couldn’t wait for us to open the doors,” says Theressa. “There is a shortage of care for infants and toddlers in Forsyth County, which creates a high demand.” The new facility opened in 2005 as Church Childcare Center, Inc: the name being a reflection of Theressa’s and her husband’s values, and a desire to show the love of Christ to the community every day of the week. In 2018, Church Childcare expanded to a second building that serves children ages three and older as Church Childcare Plus.
For Theressa and her staff, childcare is about creating a safe space where children feel loved, understood, and nurtured. These goals and values extend beyond the children themselves to include parents and staff. Parents are often surprised when teachers know the names of children and parents outside their own classes, creating a family-like atmosphere. “We want to love people from where they are,” says Theressa. “No matter the socio-economic background, every parent wants what is best for their child. As a community, we need to consider how we can provide parents with the resources they need to help themselves as well as their children.”
Serving on the board of Smart Start of Forsyth, the Program Advisory Committee for Childcare Resource & Referral, Kate B. Reynolds board member, and the North Carolina Early Childhood Coalition, Theressa works to improve childcare quality in the local community, and is a voice advocating on behalf of parents, children, and childcare providers alike. From assistance with developmental tools and referrals to after-school programs and summer camps, Church Childcare seeks to support families in every way they can. One of the most recent projects has been the addition of eight raised garden beds for the purpose of teaching children healthy eating habits through learning to garden. Students are offered the opportunity to plant, tend, and harvest vegetables with guidance from an experienced gardener, with the produce being distributed amongst the students and their families.
Local mom, Tiffany, says she was initially nervous to place her four young boys in childcare, where she would not be able to be their voice. However, her fears were quickly put to rest with Church Childcare. “My heart is content with how they care for my babies, and I am content when I am at work knowing I have peace of mind that they are all in great hands,” says Tiffany. “I love how they light up when I ask them how their day has been, and they talk about eating healthy and growing a garden. I love how Church Childcare feels more like family than a daycare, because it is family, and they will care for your children like they are their own.”
For staff at Church Childcare, in addition to receiving support such as discounts for their own children, the work environment is designed to be warm and accepting. “In the corporate world I was taught that you needed to separate work from your personal life, but as a business owner with over 30 staff I have seen that to be untrue,” says Theressa. “A person is not going to perform their best if they are going through difficult times personally or if they have unresolved issues. If we want to provide the best care for our community, we need to care for our teachers as well.”
In September, Church Childcare hosted their first UR Awakening Conference for directors and assistant directors in the childcare industry as part of their ongoing support for local educators. The conference encouraged leaders to nurture their own joy and well-being by learning to delegate and discussed ways to prevent themselves from feeling burnt out in their careers.
With over 200 children enrolled in their current facilities, Church Childcare has come a long way from the two children Theressa kept in her own home. But the experience has been a rewarding one, and one that her entire family has taken part in. In addition to partnering with her husband in the ownership of the business, their four children have continued to be involved with Church Childcare whenever possible. From helping with special events to working weekends and volunteering for summer camps, the family works together to make the mission of Church Childcare a reality. For Theressa, the most rewarding part of investing in the lives of children is seeing them take the next steps in life with confidence, knowing they have received all the tools and resources they need to succeed. But the children are not the only ones learning valuable life lessons at Church Childcare. “Children show unconditional love. We tend to be judgmental of each other as adults, but kids don’t care about your flaws,” says Theressa. “They know how to be present in the moment. Instead of always looking toward the next project, the next challenge, the next task to be completed, they have taught me to sit still and enjoy the moment.” Perhaps by appreciating and nurturing these qualities in the younger generations, as well as in ourselves, we have the opportunity to shape our future for the better. For more information about Church Childcare, visit churchchildcare.org or call 336-595-1001.