For some families, a crucial element in their financial ability to live in Ashland exists on the campus of Southern Oregon University. Without the availability of low cost child care, some families &

married couples and single parents alike &

would be forced into making extremely difficult decisions. For these families, the Schneider Children's Center is a saving grace. Today, the center is being hit hard by tough economic conditions and turning to the community at large for its own survival.

Families in need

Elizabeth Berry is a first year post-baccalaureate student taking prerequisites for pharmacy school at Southern Oregon University. She and her husband Grayson bring their nearly two-year-old daughter Violet to the Schneider Children's Center on the campus of SOU four days a week. Berry says they "wouldn't be able to do this if it weren't for the center." Violet enjoys the day care so much, Berry said, that she and her husband practically have to "drag her out of here to come home."

Director of Student Activities at SOU, Deb Myers, brings her three-year-old son Zack to the center where he spends his day while she is at work. Myers says if the Schneider center was not available, she'd "have to find another day care option and it's really hard to go where you don't feel confident." Myers especially likes the diversity of the center. With Zack being "African-American, I know diversity is valued" at the center, she said.

Affordability

Parents such as Berry and Myers enjoy the $4 hourly rate that the center provides, but the price of the day care center does not reflect any financial difficulties that the center faces, thus many parents are unaware of budget issues. Due to mounting costs of living in the Rogue Valley expenses at the center have gone up significantly, causing the center to depend on fund-raising to fill in the budget gaps, according to Schneider staff.

Director Sara Sterns is adamant about keeping the costs for parents as low as possible, despite rising costs of living, because many are working part- or full-time and also taking a full load of classes. However, Sterns said maintaining rates at a reasonable cost for parents requires sufficient funding to cover shortfalls in the economy.

— — SOU student-parent Elizabeth Berry and her daughter, Violet, 2. Center in need

"We can't just keep asking student-parents to pay more," she said, "It's just sad to see people trying to make it and struggle."

Keeping rates low for parents means the center must raise funds in order to survive.

Tami Mora, who serves as fund-raising coordinator, considers her job critical to the survival of the center.

"Without fund-raising, we really can't stay open," Mora said. "My heart is with the kids and when I started they knew that."

Although Mora started her new position with the center in January, she says she has already planned a spagetti benefit dinner, and bake sales. A car wash is scheduled for May 24 and the center's 3rd Annual Silent Auction is set for June 8.

Community event

The auction &

highlighted by a free wine tasting from Eden Vale Winery &

will be held at the Ashland Springs Hotel. Prizes were donated from more than 60 businesses up and down the west coast, including contributions from the Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Dodgers and Universal Studios. Local businesses, including Beasy's on the Creek, Oregon Cabaret Theatre and Britt Festival are also major supporters of the center. Mora said a children's table will also be available at the auction so kids of all ages can participate.

According to Sterns, 62 children are enrolled in the center. The auction fundraiser will help replenish the everyday needs to keep the day care running smoothly. Current needs include new rideable toys, bikes, tarps for the sandbox, gardening supplies for the kids and landscaping. Smaller items include washable paints, paint brushes, recycled print cartridges, paper, flour and salt for play dough, scissors and rulers. Those interested in donating supplies are asked to contact Tami or Sara at 552- 8224.

"My goal next year is to not raise (child care) rates but that has to do with how fund-raising goes," Sterns said.