By Sam Pierce

Featured Contributor

The job of Kris Mickna, the executive director of child development at Central United Methodist Church in Rogers, is all about priceless opportunities and awesome responsibilities.

“Connect with each child and working together for the betterment of this next generation, that’s what we’re here for,” Mickna said. “You often hear the words, ‘it has to be your passion’ to work in this field with all the rules and regulations, the low pay, etc. Some days I truly know and feel that!

“And oftentimes, it is difficult to take my heart out of the equation. But then there are other days, I also know it’s my obligation, as just a person in this sometimes crazy world.”

Mickna has been the executive director for 13 years but has been involved with the church since 1997 when it first moved to its current location. She oversees the largest faith-based childcare program in Northwest Arkansas.

She said of the three programs combined — including Mother’s Day Out, Tiny Tots Preschool and the Central Child Care Center — there are currently 309 children enrolled. However, it should be noted that some of those are duplicated numbers because there are some families that choose to utilize two programs simultaneously. Of the 309, 55 of those students are enrolled in more than one program.

“We do a lot of family events throughout the year to help us make and foster true relationships with the families that we serve,” Mickna said.

She said they host events such as Muffins with Mom, Donuts with Dad, Goodies with Grandparents, Arkansas Children’s Week family picnic, a summer luau or end of school year parties. She said they also have Breakfast with Santa, Thanksgiving Family Potluck, a Fall Festival, and other Christmas and holiday programs.

“We also do quite a bit with our community, such as having food drives and delivering all of it to our local food pantry are our sister church or visits to the nursing homes for things like trick-or-treating or Christmas caroling for the residents there,” she said. “Of course, all of this doesn’t replace simply greeting parents as they arrive with their children each morning, calling them by name, and wishing them a good evening when they pick up their kiddos at the end of their day.

“One-on-one conversations are just as vital and always welcomed by having an open-door policy. I know I spoke about being ‘hands-on’ administratively and that in itself also helps to make a lot of personal connections.”

Mickna said she and her directors are not the kind of people to sit in their offices and not be involved. She said they are constantly in the hallways and classroom, and talk with parents throughout the day because of their mobile app.

“I think it would be really hard to not make connections,” she said. “We spend more time seeing these kids in activities than their parents do because we have them up to 11 hours a day, so we see them awake more than they do.

“We are constantly sharing pictures back and forth with their parents. We are very hands-on and I think if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t enjoy my job as much. It is about making those connections.”

Through the Central Child Care Center, the children participate in chapel time, library time, art, music, science, math, learning centers, and imaginative play.

“Right before I was hired, the pastor at the time, Biff Averitt, saw a need for her position. She said prior to her coming, each ministry had its own board and “they all ran pretty independently from each other.”

“So they created this position, created just one board that governs over all three programs,” she said. “I have a total of 40 staff members including 35 for the Central Child Care and the Mother’s Day Out Program and five for Tiny Tots.”

She said she also has a bookkeeper that works part-time but does the books for both programs.

She said the childcare field as a whole is not a lucrative place to work, “but our board has worked really hard to create a new pay structure so that we can be competitive in the field.”

“I have a lot of staff that has been here a long time, so that is a definite plus,” she said.

Mickna said most of the new families come to the program through word of mouth, with a waiting list for every age group. She said she loves her staff and her teachers and said her directors are phenomenal and “truly do love the kids.”

“I love that we have the versatility and can provide a lot of options under one roof,” Mickna said. “We take up three wings of the church on the bottom floor.

“It also gives parents options, because our programs complement each other. We have students in Mothers Day Out and Tiny Tots simultaneous, because parents may need a longer day.

“It does get a little tricky because we are providing so many options for parents versus a set schedule. … But we are trying to fill a need that everyone wants.”

“It’s not me, it’s not one person, it is the team that we have built here,” Mickna said. “The vast majority of our families are not church members.

“And we take that in the light, as an awesome opportunity. Because they may never step in the doors of the church, but they will come in through one of our programs and that’s amazing.

“To be able to share the love of Christ every day and let our families see Christ through you.”

For more information, visit cumcrogers.com.