Early Childhood Learning Center

Toddler lead teacher Tara Goltermann gives Clara Sowers a kiss on the forehead after fixing her hair on Jan. 23 at the Casper Early Childhood Learning Center at Casper College.

Casper College’s Early Childhood Learning Center is set to contribute 99 jobs and $9.1 million in transactions to the local economy, according to a recent economic impact report.

The child care and preschool facility makes it possible for many parents to pursue higher education.

More than half of the 52 children the center serves qualify for child care assistance through the Department of Family Services.

The study took into account such long-term economic effects as increasing potential lifetime earnings, providing greater family stability, reducing future welfare payments and enhancing the educations of future generations of students.

The economic impact in the report looks ahead about 15 years, said Steven Peterson, a University of Idaho clinical assistant professor of economics who co-authored the report.

Those long-term numbers don’t include the immediate economic impacts of constructing the center. That directly and indirectly created 26 new jobs -- likely in and around Casper -- and $3.9 million in transactions, according to the report. Those expenditures in the long-term support an industry important to local economies, Peterson added.

Early Childhood Learning Center Director Donna Sonesen noted the center’s value in dollar amounts.

“But I see the impact every day,” she added. It’s the mother who can nurse her newborn between classes, the single parent who wouldn’t otherwise have the child care needed to pursue a degree and the children learning from qualified teachers while their parents work at giving them a better life.

Emily Calmes is one of those parents. She hadn’t yet heard about the “Economic Impacts of 2010 foundation Grantmaking on the U.S. Economy” study. But she said the center made all the difference to her.

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“It meant getting a degree, first of all,” Calmes said. “Without this, I don’t think I ever would have gone to college.”

Calmes started at Casper College when her daughter, now 6, was an infant. Her son, 3, attends preschool at the center. She's earned associates degrees in early childhood and elementary education, and is working on a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer science. She wants to open her own early childhood center someday.

Calmes also has done work study, student teaching and lab classes at the center. About 330 students and volunteers work at the center, according to the report.

Not just a way for single or disadvantaged parents to pursue higher education, the report also hails the center as a model for early childhood education. The center is accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs.

The study, sponsored by The Philanthropic Collaborative, examined impacts of foundations’ giving on several cases, including the Early Childhood Learning Center.

The center had operated at an old, crowded former dormitory before grants made possible a new facility, which opened last year.

Donations of $1.17 million funded total construction costs. Grants came from the Daniels Fund, Zimmerman Family Foundation, Myra Fox Skelton Foundation, Goodstein Foundation, Harry T. Thorson Foundation and McMurry Foundation, according to the report. Individual philanthropists also contributed. With those initial investments, economic benefits happen from an operating cost of just $425,000, according to the report.

“Without this support, these children may not have access to a preschool education," the report states, “nor would their parents have the opportunity to pursue higher education.”

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Reach education reporter Elysia Conner at 307-266-0593 or elysia.conner@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @ElysiaConner