Big Wonder Blooms

Nine Months of Growth and Transformation

by Celeste Finn, Big Wonder Executive Director

Big Wonder Child Care opened last August, with only two children in our care. One was my son; the other was a friend’s child. It has been nine months of grit and determination—working overtime and praying for viability before our savings ran dry. Our vision to provide exceptional childcare, be a place of security for families, and be a rewarding profession for teachers kept us motivated. Our darkest hours are always just before dawn.

May feels like a literal and metaphorical spring for Big Wonder. Today, nine months later, we have 27 children enrolled! Each of these children has a unique story, and their families have trusted us with their care. We are finally financially stable, and we continue to grow. With financial viability and a steady growth trajectory, we are stable and have proof of concept in hand. We are here to stay! Now, we can increase staffing, giving us the wiggle room and ability for sick days without needing to close the school, and a healthier work-life balance.

We know that quality child care is pivotal for quality of life in the long run. Four of the children currently enrolled receive Big Wonder scholarships, and two are on governmental assistance. It is not an exaggeration to say these scholarships are life-transforming for the children in our care and their families, by providing access to exceptional child care that was previously out of reach.

These scholarships are one small step to desegregating child care, which remains shockingly segregated by race and economic status across Minnesota. 

Equally confirming has been our work in developing a race consciousness framework. We have been exploring conversations with race with children 3-5 years old and sharing this rich knowledge with others. This year, we have given two workshops at childcare centers that have been foundational for their equity work. We will continue collaborating and presenting at schools and conferences in Minnesota to foster a transformative race-consciousness framework to decrease the achievement gap that remains the second highest of any State in the nation. 

Advocating for the rights of families and children is front and center of our work. We have been interviewed by MPR, published in the Minnesota Reformer, invited to testify at the capitol, talked to legislators, and led groups and Children’s Advocacy Day at the Capitol. We are working with Kids Count on Us and Say Yes Saint Paul to amplify our advocacy work and make quality care accessible to the most vulnerable children in Minnesota. 

Finally, we have partnered with the City of Saint Paul and Ramsey Hill Association to add a nature-based playground to the Holly Tot Lot. Many children in Saint Paul face a deficit of connection and time to nature. We are excited to partner with these organizations to find sustainable solutions so children can experience what it feels like to lie under a tree and see the sun dapple through, build their very own fort, and make a dozen mud pies. 

This has involved far more advocacy and collaboration than I would have imagined possible in our first nine months. Growth has been swift, and there is a hunger for child care that protects the rights and needs of children, families, and teachers. 

We would not be here without the support of St. John’s. This community has been essential for us in doing this work. St John’s has been our home, affordable, beautiful and welcoming. Everyone has provided an encouraging smile and a heartfelt laugh when we have been upset or overwhelmed. St John’s has introduced us to heads of schools to partner with and new families to enroll in our care. St John’s has helped us build a fence, remove a wall, and has kept our classrooms clean day after day. This is a community building and partnership at its finest. 

Together, we are creating a more equitable, kind, and loving St. Paul.

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