By Dwight Hobbes
Primarily, Sunshine Tree is, to all intent and purpose, that timeless, tried-and-true institution of family support, a babysitter. We’ve dressed the term up these days, calling the occupation day care, but, the basic service is the same: taking care of children when parents simply can’t be in two places at once and require responsible supervision in their stead.
That bottom line, responsible care of children, is Evette McDonald-McCarthy’s company’s bread and butter. From there, working as a successful entrepreneur dovetails perfectly with her sense of social commitment. Additionally, it’s a family affair — McDonald-McCarthy’s mom started the company in 1988.
She started the daycare because Sears moved all their operations from South Minneapolis to Des Moines and she was out of job. So, she looked “around the neighborhood we were in and saw there were a lot of children around and parents needed that particular service in order to go to work, go to school, do whatever.”
It started in her house on Park Avenue with about 14 youngsters. The business eventually expanded, the center moving into a building a block or two over at 3641 Chicago Avenue. Along with keeping an eye on kids until mom or dad can come get them there is an educational component, vital, of course, for African American youth in this climate that is notorious for its academic disparity that draws a great deal of lip service but little in terms of concrete action.
“We really focus,” she says, “on early literacy, for all children that come to the center.” She adds, “One of the main reasons we do it is because a lot of times children of color are counted out before they even get to school. So, we want to make sure that they have the right tools before they get to kindergarten.”
A constant that has been with Black people over the eons is that the key to social progress is, in fact, having a good education. McDonald-McCarthy concurs: “Yes. And we want to make sure our children get what they need so far as quality [preparation for] school. One of the things I think that happens is that some public school teachers have the preconceived notion that children of color can’t learn.”
It’s hard to learn when the person teaching you makes a half-hearted effort because he or she is convinced their time is being wasted. The first time you run into a problem you need help solving, the attitude is that you’ll never get it, so why should they bother trying.
Heading off such willful ignorance on the part of classroom instructors, Sunshine Tree nurtures young minds as early on as possible. “From age two, we start working with them on reading, writing, recognition, all that. We deal with kids from six weeks old to right up to before their thirteenth birthday.”
This includes helping with homework assignments and an overall, comprehensive approach by staff to be thoroughly supportive to their charges, seeing to it the clients’ children are capable students. If a mind is a terrible thing to waste, as the historic ad for Black colleges goes, how much more do we need to safeguard and strengthen fledgling intelligence, not to mention shore up attendant self-esteem?
Nothing, after all, builds capability like confidence. And confidence, of course, is a matter of knowing you are capable.
A rewarding dividend of Evette McDonald-McCarthy’s investment is Sunshine Tree Child Development Center’s profoundly effective outreach to families who often are greatly in need of informed intervention. It starts with the concept that little people aren’t the only ones facing a system run by red tape and designed more to process paperwork and perpetuate operation than it is to be of actual benefit.
“Sometimes the system of the City falls short. They say they are supposed to be providing service for individuals so that can [be employed], but a lot of times the criteria parents have to [meet] blocks them out and keeps them from getting assistance they need.”
If you’re hamstringing parents with undue process, you are by extension making things difficult for their children. “We have a lot of single moms [who] bring their child to the center. If they try to get a job and the job pays even a dollar over the median, they are cut off from the county. So, we have to help them with resources.”
She goes on to reflect that, unlike the bureaucracy, Sunshine Tree is cognizant that a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting parents doesn’t work. “Many of them come in with different hardships. It’s necessary to find ways to help them with housing, food, rent, all that. We try to keep a list of services that are available so we can point parents in the right direction.”
That in and of itself can be a boon, since too often parents face the double frustration of one, desperately needing help, and two, wasting time and energy going in circles trying to locate the appropriate resource. Importantly, along with aiding clients, the center gives them the information they need in order to, in the future, be well prepared to help themselves. Sadly, at times, this extends to enlightening mothers on how to escape domestic abuse, a problem that still plagues far too many relationships.
So, for all that Sunshine Tree Child Development Center is a business, not a social services outlet, Evette McDonald-McCarthy goes the extra mile as a matter of course. “[Our clients] are human beings. [Help] if you see somebody needs help — that’s just the way I was taught, how my mom raised me.” And it’s how she goes about helping parents raise their young.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.
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