County Keeps Kids Busy as Bugs at Daycare

County Keeps Kids Busy as Bugs at Daycare Main Photo

25 Mar 2021

Workforce, Stories

As the owner of a home daycare business on the east side of St. Paul, Nakia Howard routinely goes out of her way to help the children and families she serves. For example, Howard will provide assistance on weekends if parents need it, at no extra charge.

“I am a people person and I believe it is my calling to help,” she said. “Not every action requires payment because I know I will receive my blessings.”

In the spring of 2020, Howard lost half of her business as the COVID-19 crisis became a reality. But, Howard said she did receive a blessing last summer in the form of a grant from the Ramsey County Small Business Relief Fund, keeping her in business and able to continue providing her service.

Kia’s Love Bugs Childcare

Howard began Kia’s Love Bugs Childcare in 2016 with three children. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, her business included 12 total children and two additional staff members. When the pandemic hit, she lost half of her kids as many parents were forced to stay home to work. Howard is very thankful to Ramsey County because her business may not have survived without its help.

“I am not sure I would have even known about the grant availability without them, “ she said. “Ramsey County went above and beyond to help us, which speaks volumes that they care for the people here.”

group imageFrom Left: Tatyana Benson, Sheena Sampson and Nakia Howard

County Supports Small Business

The Small Business Relief Fund is a part of the Ramsey County Investment and Support Efforts (RISE) program, designed to invest $56 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding in the community by the end of 2020, with about  $15 million directly into the business community. According to Kari Collins, Ramsey County Community & Economic Development Director, about half of Ramsey County businesses employ five or fewer people and are the most vulnerable to economic flux.

“Many of these small businesses were left out of federal and state aid programs,” she said. “The Ramsey County Small Business Relief Fund was targeted toward these business owners to get through a couple of months and pay for rent, utilities and other reopening expenses associated with adapting to Covid-19 guidelines.”

Passion and Dedication to Children and Families

Howard's goal is to prepare children for early education into the school system, so when they leave her childcare, they are well on their way to school readiness. That preparation includes teaching children how to care for themselves at an early age, such as the proper techniques of hand washing or how to use the bathroom on their own. And she also seeks to give children the beginning foundation of socialization and understanding other cultures. 

The childcare is open weekdays from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Two hot meals and items like baby wipes are included in the tuition. The childcare participates in the Minnesota Reading Corps, which allows a specialist to work with children on their literacy. It holds a Four-Star Rating with the Parent Aware Program, the highest the program provides as Minnesota’s Childcare Quality Rating and Improvement System. Parents with children in Kia’s Love Bugs, like Jessica Lakis, know Howard takes her business seriously. 

“Nakia has worked so hard to ensure that the children in her care have an excellent pre-K education, not only by being in the Parent Aware Program and MN Reading Corps, but also keeping the children engaged in fun learning projects,” she said. 

While parents with children at Kia’s Love Bugs want the school readiness, they appreciate the warm, loving environment evident there. Lakis has brought her children to Howard for over three years and plans to continue to do so until they head off to elementary school. 

“We are so blessed to have found her childcare and for her to be in our child's lives,” said Lakis. “Nakia always goes above and beyond for the families enrolled in her childcare, like getting them gifts on their birthdays and making holidays special for them.”

Howard’s efforts cover a wide range of items. Parents have several opportunities to stay in touch with their children throughout the day, from a private Facebook Live page or pictures emailed by staff to parents. Howard and her staff take the children on frequent outings, with their availability often extending into the weekends for trips to Howard’s church. School worksheets are sent home with the kids, and when they have to stay home, she will check in via Zoom to see how they are doing.

“I have had to make a few house calls to make sure the kids are doing the work they are supposed to,” Howard said. “I believe it is my calling from God to serve others.”

Looking Forward

Lakis said the childcare facility has always been amazingly clean and inviting for both parent and child. While Howard said she has always been a germaphobe, she has placed even more attention on operating her business in the current COVID-19 climate. Allowing only one parent per child inside the building at a time, placing hand sanitizer by the sign-in logs, wearing masks and requiring hand-washing before entering are all common now. She is hopeful the help exhibited by Ramsey County will spur more good quality childcare in her area.

“It is not a competition, because parents want more home-based childcare businesses and the one-on-one attention found there,” said Howard. “If we can have more of that in our community, we will have less children with colds, infections and just overall more healthy, happy kids.”