DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - Finding childcare is often a barrier to people taking classes or earning a degree, so several organizations in Dubuque came together to create a solution.
Nikea Bennett watches kids after she received a certificate through the Opportunity Dubuque program. (Charlie Grant/KCRG)
Through a program called Opportunity Dubuque, Northeast Iowa Community College provides training in 16 high-demand careers. Scholarships for students are funded by the city of Dubuque, the county, and the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation.
Now, students that want to take classes can receive free childcare.
Nikea Bennett, a mother of two who works at Holy Family Early Childhood, recently received a childcare certificate after taking classes through Opportunity Dubuque. Bennett has always loved working with children and has dreamed of one day starting her own childcare center. However, that idea always seemed a little out of reach.
"I wouldn't have had a way to even start the class because I don't have really too many people to watch my own kids," Bennett said.
That was her situation until she heard about the Opportunity Dubuque program. When Bennett enrolled, she was able to take classes all while her children were taken care of, free of charge.
"Having [Opportunity Dubuque] was a huge help because I could still go check on [my kids] when we have our breaks," Bennett said. "The staff was really nice."
As an added bonus, Holy Family paid her while she was taking classes, and then offered her a full-time job upon completion.
Jordan O'Connell, NICC Success Model Coordinator, said area business leaders have recognized for some time that childcare is a barrier to expanding and educating the workforce.
"It's something we heard from potential students that would get right up to that registration point and just that complication of logistics of managing the kids during the class. We saw that as a very easy win if we could provide it for them," O'Connell said. "That last barrier then it is not an obstacle anymore.”
O'Connell said graduates of the program are actually eligible for childcare beyond the completion of the program.
"While they’re in class, the childcare will be covered," O'Connell said. "We’ll take care of that. And then after class, they’re actually eligible for additional supports. It’s on a step-down scale depending on what DHS benefits they may be eligible for, and over the course of a year, we’ll start them off at full coverage for the first quarter, and then step down so they should be self-sufficient after a year."
Nikea is thankful for the program and its support.
"It was an amazing experience. I loved it," she said.