At Christ United Methodist Church in Lincoln, they don’t just believe in turning lemons to lemonade, they believe in turning lemons into

Pastor Andy with children in the Malone Center’s after-school student program at the church.

miracles – as Pastor Andy Frazier tells the wondrous tale of the church’s childcare program.

Bottom line, the church was forced to close down their struggling childcare program this past year. “It was one of the hardest decisions our church ever made,” Frazier says. “That had been part of our ministry in our community for so long, helping kids. It was part of our identity.”

But as it turns out, that is only the first half of the story, Frazier says with a smile. “This went from being a tragedy to a very happy story.”

Today the church has contracted with two childcare provider tenants –Bluestem Montessori and the Clyde Malone Community Center’s after-school program – who will both serve the church. “Christ United is alive again with children in our hallways,” Frazier says. “We are able to bring back new life and keep our educational space meaningful to our community.”

The secret? Lincoln Littles.

“They answered our prayers,” Frazier says. “They have walked us through every step of this journey, helped us navigate some of the most difficult decisions. Lincoln Littles is a gift to our community. They were the miracle, saving what could have been a tremendously painful situation.”

Suzanne Schneider, associate director of Lincoln Littles, explains that the church’s early childcare program was struggling for many years.  “We worked with them to try different budgeting, different staffing, trying to keep it open. But they finally came to the difficult consensus that the program was no longer financially sustainable. They needed to stop the bleed.”

Lincoln Littles helped them close with dignity in three ways.

  • Created sample letters and messages to help inform staff and families that the childcare center was closing.
  • Guided families in finding alternate quality childcare.
  • Assisted staff in finding jobs.

“We tried to help in every way possible to make this go as smoothly as possible,” Schneider says.

“We knew there was value in providing childcare, but we just couldn’t afford to keep it open on our own,” Frazier says. “This was massively painful in the life of our church, but Lincoln Littles made it the least painful I can imagine.”

He explains that Schneider coached them through the closing process, while also providing a sensible timeline forward. “I just can’t say enough about Suzanne and Lincoln Littles. They do such a remarkable job for all the childcare providers within our community. It seemed too good to be true.  They gave us an enormous amount of time and resources, so many services all for free.”

Even more importantly, he continues, they provided hope. “They asked us, ‘What’s your next step? What could you do now, short of starting in-house daycare?’”

Schneider explains further: “Sometimes it’s difficult for churches to run childcare centers. It’s just a whole different business.”

But Lincoln Littles immediately urged the church to start considering a different plan. “We suggested the possibility of finding tenants who could lease the space and run their own childcare programs,” Schneider says. “It was important to look at the bigger picture. Yes, the church had to close the childcare center. But what other opportunities were there? Was there a way the church could continue to serve children?”

Lincoln Littles helped the church reach out into the community of childcare providers and see who might want to expand, provided the church with sample leases, and gave them the important questions to ask.

Recently, the church has signed contracts with two local after-school programs: Bluestem Montessori, and the Malone Center’s program. Frazier says, “We have this opportunity solely because of Suzanne and Lincoln Littles. We would have had empty halls without them.”

Schneider urges other organizations in the same predicament to keep the faith. “I like to believe we help people understand what the future could look like – how their vision might change.”

She is especially amazed at how the timing has unfolded: “The Malone program only needs a temporary home while their Community Center is under construction. But as it turns out, they’ll be ready to leave the church about the same time Bluestem is thinking about expansion. This could work out long-term and leave everyone happy.”

Frazier said the church is indeed happy. “In contrast to the empty halls when we shut down, we now have space filled with life again, serving the children of our community.”

** Fiscally sponsored by Lincoln Community Foundation, Lincoln Littles is an organization of passionate advocates focused on ensuring access to quality early childhood care and education in Lincoln.**