It's lunch time at Milestones child development center, which today means grilled quesadillas, green beans and apples. The children serve themselves using ladles and big forks-at one table the tikes host a race to see who can fill their plate with the most apple slices (the winner takes six).
"Increased food quality was a major thing parents wanted out of their new provider," said Amy Walker, director and owner of Milestones. Other regular meals at Milestones include teriyaki stir fry and homemade minestrone soup.
Milestones won the child care bid at the Department of Education late last year, and opened their doors January 2. Walker said that state employees enjoy the benefit of having their children in the same or nearby building.
"There's a huge need for child care downtown, especially for parents of younger children," said Walker. "I've got parents that live as far as Placerville, Davis, Lodi. A lot of them choose to have care near their place of employment so they can spend more time with their kids."
According to government code, state buildings with 700 or more state employees – accounting for 30 or more children – are required to have child care services. Centers are generally open to all children, but state employees usually have priority on the waiting list. Prices tend to be contingent on age level and the number of days the child spends at the center. There are 22 child day care facilities statewide, nine in Sacramento. Some have novel names like Dot Tots at the Department of Transportation..
"Our staff is not aware of any state buildings that don't have [a child care service]," said Eric Lamourex, spokesman for DGS.
The Department of General Services is required to identify, set up, and maintain the space. But after that, it's up to parents to create a nonprofit board to locate an outside service provider, stage fundraising events to pay for materials, and write up a lease and contract with the chosen care center.
JT Marcell is parent board president for the east end child center board, where Milestone runs their day care center.
"You need to get a group of people together and create a nonprofit," he said. "We got into looking into daycare facilities around town, this facility at the time was new and clean and we could get it right away."
From there, the group arranged fundraisers to pay for chairs, refrigerators, and playground equipment. They hosted dinners at schools, and also applied for and received a grant. A process, Marcell said, that did not happen overnight.
"It took the East End Child Center almost two years before kids made it in," said Marcell. "We don't get anything from the state to help run the facility. It's very difficult to find a company willing to come in under those terms."
Marcell said he was extremely fortunate to find Amy Walker and her Milestones center to house in the East End Center. He recommends that state employees creating a parent board spend time inside the center they are interested in and weigh a company's referrals, just to get a good feel of what they want.
Now that the facility is up and running Marcell said his responsibilities are "minimal", although he encounters challenges surrounding building improvements and the lease.
"Right now our rubberized playing surface has some chunks missing out of it, we're pointing fingers with DGS over who should pay for it," said Marcell. "Sometimes it's hard to get DGS engaged with [problems] that need to be taken care of. Our building has gone through three different building managers in the last year"
JT Marcell's daughter is four. In another year, she'll be going on to Kindergarten, and he will likely be stepping down as board director.
"Unless you're planning on having six kids, you have to really establish good framework to have it be a success," he said. "When you decide to have a kid I wish doctors would tell you then to start looking for a day care."