The Loving Hands Daycare is filling a big shortage in daycare facilities in Pratt.

The sounds of happy children fill the halls in the education wing of the First Baptist Church at 121 South Ninnescah. This is the new home of the Loving Hands Daycare Center that recently opened its doors in Pratt to help fill a continually growing need for daycare in the Pratt community, said Sherry Morford, Loving Hands owner and program director.

The facility officially opened it's doors Oct. 27 and they have 12 children ages 3 to 8 with ample room for more. Their hours are from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday on a year round basis.

Morford said she gets calls on a regular basis wanting to know when they can take more children. She has already pre-enrolled seven more that will start after Jan. 1, 2018 and she expects a brother and sister to join soon after that.

It has been Morford's dream for several years to have a daycare center in Pratt. For a time, she worked at the Sacred Heart daycare but knew that there were many more children in need of daycare in the community.

"There is an extreme need for daycare for infants, toddlers and twos," Morford said.

When she started her journey to open a daycare, Morford soon learned there were a lot more regulations to deal with than she realized.

"I didn't realize how involved it was (to start a daycare). I had to jump through a lot of hoops," Morford said.

Finding a place for the daycare was a huge obstacle. With so many state regulations, it wasn't easy to find a place that would meet all the needs. Morford had made a list of everything she needed in a building and when she saw the First Baptist Church facilities, it was exactly what she was looking for.

"I got goose bumps," Morford said. "I cried. It matched my vision exactly."

Finances was a big issue. Without the necessary funding, it didn't matter if everything else was in place. Morford had the credit but not the collateral while he son Ken had the collateral. There were a number of snags along the way but they prayed about the situation. Then Ken made a phone call to a potential donor and the money was available. The call was made on a Wednesday and the money was there on Friday.

There is still more to do because Morford wants the facility to be able to take younger children.

If they were to take on newborns to age two, their care room has to have a door that lead directly to the outside. Morford is seeking funds to get the door installed. Contractors have already visited the building and are preparing bids for the project. Once she has the bids, the church council has to approve the door addition and the rest of the funds have to be raised. Parents have already called and said they would donate funds to get the door installed.

When the door is in place, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has to come an approve the door before they can they can take on newborns, toddlers and twos.

There is an especially big need for daycare in Pratt for the newborns, toddlers and twos age group.

"I've been getting calls on a regular basis for younger children," Morford said. "Infant care in Pratt is almost non-existent. I could fill the room today. There's that much need."

For now, the fire marshal has approved the facility for 15 children and the rooms are licensed for ages 3-10. But there is plenty of room for more. It all the licensing is approved, they building can accommodate 54 children, said Morford who will interview for more help when needed.

Their education curriculum is designed for children to be kindergarten ready. The program encourages children to interact and do a lot of self exploration with teacher directed activities including arts and crafts. They learn letters and help children develop small motor skills like washing hands, brushing teeth and for some, potty training.

The children have a prayer before snacks and lunch and they have been singing Christmas carols, both secular and religious.

Morford's son Ken is part of the staff and handles the technology portion of the operation. Betty Dilling is assistant director and the pre-K teacher.

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