By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
RED BANK — Monmouth Day Care Center has been providing a safe, loving and educational environment for children in the area for decades.
“We’re like an extended family,” says Heidi Zaentz, executive director.
What started – with the sponsorship of various groups – in 1969 as a nonprofit organization in the basement of a Red Bank church, now has 125 students in its home at 9 Drs. James Parker Boulevard. The center has been there since 1976.
The youngsters – ranging from 2 months to 5 years old – spend quality hours learning their colors, ABCs and how to share. In addition, a popular before- and after-school program for school-age children is available and in summer some 100 toddlers and preschoolers enjoy the mini-camp.
The facility boasts eight classrooms, a multipurpose room, a library, three age-appropriate playgrounds (including an indoor space for those rainy days) and a commercial kitchen that offers nutritious meals for breakfast and lunch.
Murals and child-rendered artwork line the walls, clearly marked cubbies and appropriately labeled words—sometimes in Spanish and English—punctuate the rooms.
Accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the center’s curriculum is derived from the Developmentally Appropriate Practice. That theory is based on the belief that a child’s social, emotional, physical and intellectual development are of equal importance.
”We’re the first day care center in Monmouth County to be accredited,” says Zaentz.
In addition, for the past few years some 45 students attend the center as part of Red Bank’s Preschool Expansion program. In those classrooms, teachers – hired, trained and paid by the center – follow the Red Bank school’s curriculum.
Grouped by ages, the children learn through an assortment of stimulating hands-on activities. They may bake a cake, assemble a puzzle or pluck tomatoes from the garden. Activities help develop children’s intellect, creativity and dexterity. There is time for reading, resting and releasing restlessness. “Learning through play is most important,” says Zaentz.
Teachers, aides, staff and even volunteers are scrutinized with background checks, says Zaentz, who has served as director for 13 years. The warm loving atmosphere is felt by students, parents and teachers alike. “We have some members of our staff who have been here for 20 years,” says Zaentz. “Where else can you come to work and get so many hugs and smiles?”
Zaentz points out that, although parent involvement is stressed, busy work schedules can make that difficult. In addition to parent bulletin boards and folders, the center hosts events such as bingo and parent/child planting sessions.
Tuition is based on a sliding fee scale and tuition assistance contracts are maintained with the state Department of Human Services and the Division of Family Development. An informal food pantry stocked with donations and a holiday gift program also help many families.
In economic hard times, especially, the community depends on a nonprofit facility like the Monmouth Day Care Center. “We have such a diverse population, so we’re here to support the needs of the families,” says Zaentz. “Child care is very expensive and we are affordable.”
She points out that the alternative childcare solution for some families is a private home, which may not have the proper oversight. “Or you may have a wonderful loving relative caring for your child,” she says, “but the child probably is not getting the social interaction and early learning skills they need.”
With a day care center, Zaentz says, children can get a head start. “It’s been found that kids who get an early start in education do better in school,” she says.
Crystal Rubins of Red Bank fondly remembers her days at the Monmouth Day Care Center more than 20 years ago. “I remember the friends I made and the fun we had,” she says. “It was a great experience.”
Those memories, the convenience and reasonable cost of the center is why she chose to send her own two children – Lawrence, 6, and Capri, 3 – to the same place she once played. “The biggest part is because I trust them (the teachers and staff),” says Rubins, who is assistant director of member services at the Red Bank YMCA. “I trust them the way my parents trusted them with me.”
When Debbie and Jeff Iapicco, Lincroft, were searching for day care for their children (now in their late 20s), they especially wanted diversity. “At the time I was working part-time and I wanted my children to see that everyone is not the same.”
Not only did that include a melting pot of races and ethnicities, but also abilities. “My kids became friends with kids with disabilities and they went on to become involved with the Challenger program (a sports program for children with disabilities), ” she says. “They never looked twice at kids and thought about what color they were or if they had a disability.”
Now in her 25th year on the Monmouth Day Care Center’s Board of Trustees, Iapicco is serving her second year as president and is still devoted to the center. With the rigorous accreditation requirements, Iapicco knows how valuable the center is to the community. “It’s more than just teaching the children how to read or hand washing or how to be kind to each other,” she says. “It’s amazing what the kids learn while they’re there.”