response: January/February 2019 Issue

Caring for Children in Texas

The Alpine Community Center in Alpine, Texas, provides quality child care for a community in need.

Caring for Children in Texas
A girl in the pre-K program at Alpine Community Center. The center is a United Methodist Women-supported national mission institution.

For the most part, West Texas is empty. To be sure, the area is beautiful, with its mile-high mountains set amid the Chihuahua Desert. Small towns dot the region, full of history, but lacking the population that would bring many Walmarts and other symbols of advanced civilization.

Alpine, Texas, is a three-hour drive from the nearest really large city, El Paso, and a world away from the east Texas cities of Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. What started as a tent village for cowboys herding cattle and workers building a railroad in the 1880s has become a small center for higher education. The main campus of Sul Ross State University, which serves most of west Texas, is here. But the town still has only about 6,000 residents. Besides the university, employers range from McDonald’s and other retail businesses to a hospital and Border Patrol. Tourists stop by on the way to Big Bend National Park, an hour and a half south.

In 1936, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, established the Alpine Community Center, dedicated to youth welfare. Today the center is a United Methodist Women-related national mission institution supported by members’ Mission Giving.

The center has a simple mission: To strengthen families by providing appropriate educational opportunities to children that enhance leadership skills and responsibilities and to help children and adults develop a sense of self-worth through the expression of God’s love.

To that end, the Alpine Community Center provides quality child care for preschool children and afterschool care for students from Alpine Elementary School.

Anyone can enroll their children, as long as space is available, said the center’s director, Rose Pallanez. The cost is a very reasonable $100 a week for preschoolers, and $50 for the afterschool program—rates that can be discounted for qualifying low-income parents.

An important place

On a recent morning, teachers Mari Rodriguez and Christina Babb were helping 2-year-old children with art projects, the 3-year-olds were reading and teacher Cecilia Torres was supervising the pre-K (4-year-old) children outside at the center’s playground.

Dolores Savery, who is a caregiver in the 1-year-old classroom, also has a son, Mason, enrolled in the pre-K class. It’s really important, Savery said, to have a place like Alpine Community Center to bring Mason. If it didn’t exist, she said, she would have to find someone to provide reliable home care, “which is not easy in this town.”

The center has a curriculum for the pre-K class to ensure that students are ready to enter school when they leave. Savery said Mason is “learning a lot. He learns his shapes, his colors, he sings, he does his alphabet and his numbers. Every week they have a different letter they’re focusing on. Last week was the letter P. He brings home worksheets he’s done in the classroom tracing the letter P. He’ll tell me what sound it makes, and he’ll tell me words that start with the letter P.”

The center’s child care program includes breakfast and lunch for the kids. Sonia Nuñez is the cook. “I love to be here. I love to work with the kids,” she said. Nuñez’ daughter Mia enrolled in the center’s child care program when she was three. “Mia had a very good experience here. She made very good friends.” Now a sixth grader, Mia still likes to come back to the center to help.

The afterschool kids come to the center on a school bus from Alpine Elementary School every afternoon. Caregivers help them with homework and serve a snack. Then the kids can play indoors or outdoors until their parents pick them up at the end of the day. In the summer, the afterschool children come to the center for the whole day.

In addition to financial support through Mission Giving, Pallanez said that United Methodist Women in nearby Van Horn, Texas, sent classroom supplies. But she can always use more, and she has greater needs as well.

“Right now, I would like to have new changing tables for the babies’ room and the 2-year olds,” she said. “We have had our changing tables for a long, long time. What would help is to have changing tables that have little steps. The 2-year-old children are not all potty-trained yet, and so they’re heavier.” The steps would allow the 2-year-olds to step up onto the table, so it would no longer put a strain on caregivers’ backs.

Also on the center’s needs list is a small office space for the administrative assistant, who now shares a cramped office with Pallanez. And so is some help with the air conditioners. “They’re swamp coolers,” she said, “so when it’s so humid outside, they don’t work.”

But even with balky air conditioners, the center is making a difference in parents’ lives. Pallanez remembers one grandmother who suddenly found herself caring for a child when the baby had to be taken away from the biological parent. Without affordable and reliable child care, that situation could have turned lives upside down. But the center was able to provide the child care help and the stability both the grandmother and the child needed. The Alpine Community Center is one way United Methodist Women puts faith, hope and love into action.

Jim West is a photojournalist in Detroit, Michigan, and frequent contributor to response.

Posted or updated: 1/4/2019 12:00:00 AM

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