BEND – Never underestimate the power of mothers to change the world. More specifically, never underestimate the power of moms in Bend to change the landscape of childcare – with the support of a few faith communities – in central Oregon.
The parents involved in ReVillage – a non-profit cooperative childcare consortium in Bend – are intent on creating affordable childcare in their community and advocating statewide for systemic changes that will grant more families access to childcare. They’ve started by leveraging relationships with community partners, a few churches, and parents themselves to open one play-based, parent-partnered childcare center at First Presbyterian Church serving 15 toddler and preschool-aged children in a low-cost center. Soon, they will open their second site at Bend United Methodist Church with room for an additional 20 young children.
“Community really is formed when we engage in intimate, vulnerable work together,” said Rev. Erika Spaet of Storydwelling Church. “It requires a level of trust I’ve never experienced before.”
Spaet has pastored the Greater Northwest Area of The UMC’s new-start faith community Storydwelling since 2017 as a joint venture between her called church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), and the UMC. She describes Storydwelling as a “wide web of relationships” with other young families who worship together, but also form relational circles related to issues such as immigrant and racial justice.
“The story really is one of two denominations investing in the lives and passions of some young leaders in Bend, and those young leaders having the freedom to follow the thread to where a city’s greatest need intersects with their needs as well, alongside their gifts,” Spaet said. “From there, a vocation was born!”
In late 2019, as Spaet was also expecting her first child in early 2020, the conversation about ReVillage started as a relational conversation in a congregant’s living room among a group of women who were either new moms or about to be new moms. They knew the phrase “quality, affordable childcare” is a myth in Bend.
Every county in Oregon is experiencing a childcare desert for infants through toddlers, meaning there is only 1 childcare slot for at least every 3 children. In Bend, Spaet said that number increases to 1 for every 5 children. The monthly cost for 1 toddler-aged child in the Bend area is $2,000 a month. There are subsidized childcare centers for low-income families in Bend, but very little that truly supports middle-income families.
“It was an impossible situation,” Spaet said. “Our original thought as parents was ‘let’s just swap care.’”
As they birthed their children into the world, so, too, did members of the Storydwelling Faith Community birth ReVillage into Bend. The name ReVillage comes from the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” and the idea among the board members that there’s no such thing as “no one else’s child” in their community.
“I have learned how to be a parent in this cooperative,” Spaet said.
Using a grant from the Cascadia District Church Extension Society, Spaet and some of her Storydwelling families started their childcare swap. But it was early 2020, and two weeks in – like so many other community services – the pandemic forced them to shut down. During the pandemic it became even more evident that full-time care was needed for families in Bend, so Spaet worked with other moms and the Greater Northwest Area’s Innovation Vitality (IV) Team to turn ReVillage into a registered non-profit organization and supported their organizational development.
“Pastor Erika did just what we hope of our innovators,” said Kristina Gonzalez, executive director of innovation and vitality for the GNW Area of The UMC. “She gathered people together, listened to their hopes and dreams, and helped them to listen to each other. Through faith, they discovered a need in their community and, in faith, set out to address it. ReVillage is the result. John Wesley would be proud of how this new faith community, Storydwelling, puts faith into action.”
Joslyn Walker, a self-described spiritual wanderer who attends Storydwelling, jumped into the conversation as well. As a teacher, her salary never quite covered the cost of childcare in Bend. She needed options and she also wanted to create a childcare community where parents were actively part of caring for the children.
“This is an absolute need,” Walker said. “It needed to be accessible for working families. We want to change the game of how we do childcare in central Oregon.”
As part of its mission statement, ReVillage believes in advocating for all children. To that end, the non-profit has held community forums and discussions on providing a model of childcare that allows for middle-income parents’ access to quality care. They have partnered with Family Forward Oregon to testify before the state legislature, and they intend to do more work in the future.
Becca Ellis is the director of family and children at First Presbyterian Church who said the conversation about a childcare co-op felt very “organic” for her and First Presbyterian Church. The church provides space for local schools and is committed to social justice issues. She’s serving as the interim director of ReVillage right now.
“I see our work, really, as conduits of love in the world,” she said. “If it’s working toward the thriving and flourishing of others, then that’s the work I want to be a part of. I think that’s what my faith is really about.”
For ReVillage board member Casey Lamont, it felt good to be partnering with faith communities who also value childcare accessibility as a need in the community and were willing to be part of the conversation. Whether it was First Presbyterian offering space, volunteers from Storydwelling offering their time in the classroom, or classroom supplies from other churches, the ecumenical spirit of this project is inspiring and helps other parents to know they aren’t alone in this work of raising a child.
“I think the moment you have a kid, you’re like ‘Oh my God, there’s no instruction manual,’” Lamont said.
To Lamont, having a childcare center that utilizes parents as part of the child’s growth experience is how she sees her faith lived out.
“Clearly,” said Gonzalez, “the launch of a new faith community gave the opportunity for new things to happen with new insight and energy. That energy refreshes us all for ministry in the world.”
As a new parent during a pandemic, Allison Styffe was nervous about the idea of sending her young one into childcare. For one thing, she works part-time, and her part-time salary would never have paid for part-time care. She heard about ReVillage through a mom’s group of hers and was intrigued by the idea she’d get to spend time with her child in the classroom.
“I really loved the idea of a co-op,” she said. “That’s really what sold it for me.”
She, too, now serves on the board of ReVillage and she loves the organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. She loves that it’s a co-op that honors everybody.
“I want that for my child,” she said.
As a pastor and community organizer, Spaet said she feels this is sacred work to be doing. Throughout scripture, Jesus showed up and walked alongside people from all different backgrounds. Having a non-profit co-op that walks alongside families feels the same.
“This is exactly what I feel ministry is supposed to be,” she said.