Oasis Christian Reformed Church in Winter Garden, Fla., is located in one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States. A few years ago, when the church saw former orange groves redeveloped as 13,000 homes with new schools and a hospital built to accommodate young working families, they saw a need. Within three years of recognizing this demand, and with an Ignite grant to help fund the initiative, the church was positioned to offer a preschool in their area.
Go Love Academy, named after Oasis CRC’s mission statement, “Grow Faith; Give Hope; Go Love,” aims to provide a “safe, affordable, Christ-centered childcare option for working families in the church and surrounding community,” according to the Ignite grant proposal written by church council chair Barbara Ross and pastor William Karshima.
Enrollment opened in June, and school started on August 13, 2018, with 11 kids. Since then, enrollment has more than tripled. Preschool director Paula Katutis credits this growth to parents sharing their positive experiences with the academy. Students are between the ages of 1 to 5 years and include neighborhood families and children of adoptive families transitioning to a new home life.
For families within the church and outside of the church, “There is a huge need in that area,” Karshima said.
He mentioned that after a church family adopted several children, they struggled with daycare centers with staff untrained in childhood trauma. Families can bring their kids to Go Love with Christian teachers who are able to meet those special needs. Karshima noted that a behavior specialist is on hand to spend one-on-one time with children identified with such needs.
Director Katutis said the low student-to-teacher ratio is a benefit to children and a draw for parents who choose the academy. “A little girl had separation anxiety, but through our Conscious Discipline strategies is able to make it through the morning without crying and has started enjoying school!” Conscious Discipline curriculum is informed by understanding trauma and uses teachable moments to equip children with healthy behavior. All four full-time teachers and two part-time assistants have been trained in this curriculum.
As part of the preparation process, Oasis CRC remodeled a portion of their building to accommodate the academy’s classrooms. Future visions include a possible elementary school; “We’ll see where the Lord takes us,” Karshima explained. Katutis might consider opening up the daycare to babies, noting however, that licensing is different for infants.
Oasis CRC received $10,000 from Ignite for this initiative. Ignite grants, administered by a review board consisting of donors, ministry staff, and CRC Foundation board members, “encourage and enable new ministry innovation and initiatives by providing seed money and other resources to support new ministries for a short time until they can sustain themselves.” (Ignite website)
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