It’s not often that employment anniversaries dovetail perfectly with organizational milestones, but for Janet Whalen Couch, a celebration of 20 years of service as Executive Director will coincide with the 20-year anniversary of the Campus Center for Young Children (CCYC).
When Couch moved to Goshen in 1997, she had already been serving for 10 years in a variety of preschool education roles in Michigan and Utah, but stepping into an administrative role was new.
“I remember distinctly sitting in the teacher education office at Goshen College and answering questions and lo and behold they hired me,” says Couch. “I wrote policies, hired the staff and enrolled the very first children in the program. We started with 11 kids in two classrooms. I had two full-time lead teachers and an assistant that split time between classrooms. We ended our first year with 33 kids and it just took off from there.”
Today, CCYC serves 101 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old at two locations, on the Goshen College campus in College Mennonite Church and at the Arbor Ridge Apartment complex on the north side of Goshen. The organization has served over 1,050 children since its founding.
The CCYC program was established through the collaboration of the college and the church and continues to receive some support from them, although it operates as an independent nonprofit organization. With its strong reputation for quality care, it’s not unusual for classes to have a wait list of families hoping to enroll their children. Although the program has grown and evolved over the last 20 years, Couch says the organization’s focus on each child’s development has stayed the same.
“What makes us unique is that our focus is always on what is best for the child,” she says. “We take a very individualized approach to providing care.”
CCYC provides care on a sliding scale, often subsidizing costs for families who may not be able to afford full price tuition.
Although she says that the last 20 years have been filled with “too many good stories to count,” one memory that sticks with Couch is the CCYC staff’s commitment to walk alongside a family of four kids whose parents both had developmental disabilities and were struggling to make ends meet. CCYC, in partnership with College Mennonite Church, enrolled each of the four kids for free to the family. Staff went above and beyond to help care for the children, even sometimes ensuring that they were bathed and fed when they arrived at school.
“Three years ago, I opened the newspaper and there’s a picture of this young lady holding a check for $1,000 that she had been given the title of Boys and Girls Club Student of the Year. And I realized, it was one of these kids!” says Couch. “It was a moment where you realize that we did make a difference in that child’s life. Because she had a good foundation of trust, care, and love with us, she was able to overcome a whole lot of obstacles.”
Couch stays in touch with the former student, who is now working at another local early childhood center and getting an education degree.
Though CCYC has grown, the commitment to providing the best program for children and families remains its first focus. Couch says that she feels grateful to come into work each day. She credits the other staff and teachers at CCYC, many who have worked at the center for five years or more, with helping to create a workplace that also feels like family.
“We’ve stayed true to our mission and vision of providing high quality care for children in this community and we want to continue to do just that in our next 20 years,” Couch said.
Story Submitted by Hannah Heinzekehr on behalf of the CCYC Board
Photography by Jodi Hochstedler Beyeler
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