New child care center opens at Easton Valley school

Community Foundation’s work to improve child care access paves the way for new resource in Jackson County

Little River Hawks Daycare opens at Easton Valley Elementary School this month, serving infants from two weeks of age and operating a preschool program for 3-year-olds. The center is the result of a partnership between the Easton Valley Community School District and Sherri Farrell, who owned and operated Wee Care for Young People in Preston for over 20 years. 

Farrell was ready to move on from the child care business, but was committed to ensuring quality care for children six weeks and older remain available in the community. To find a solution, she worked with Jason Neises of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and Nic Hockenberry and Patti Hoffman of the Jackson County Economic Alliance. 

The Community Foundation conducted a child care needs assessment in 2016 that highlighted challenges in the region. Since then, Foundation staff have been convening stakeholders to help address barriers to child care and improve access for families. “The connection between economic development and quality child care is strong,” said Neises, the Foundation’s community development coordinator. “The presence of reliable, affordable, and high-quality childcare will keep families in our rural communities, supporting school enrollment and growing tax bases for our cities.”

Farrell previously helped the nearby Andrew Community School District with implementation of its own child care program three years ago. Andrew superintendent Chris Fee, who also serves as superintendent of Easton Valley schools, joined the conversation with the Community Foundation and Economic Alliance. Fee took the lead and kept the idea moving forward in Miles, where Easton Valley Elementary was remodeling its campus.

“Sherri’s commitment to keeping quality child care available in the community has made this happen. She is not selling her business, rather she’s supporting the effort to provide a smooth transition for parents and children out of the goodness in her heart,” said Hoffman. “Easton Valley has embraced the addition of a child care and 3-year-old preschool. Superintendent Fee continues to share how important child care is for the community and also for the school district.”

When Wee Care closed in March due to COVID-19, it was serving 65 children of 46 families from Preston, Miles and Sabula, as well as communities outside the school district. Child care was so in demand that the center had a waiting list for the infant and toddler rooms. Wee Care families are being given top priority at the new center, but it is large enough to meet the needs of even more families.

“The lack of quality child care has been an issue statewide. Often there are not enough centers for working parents, and many centers have closed, leaving families with no care,” said Farrell. “While working on a succession plan, I was focused on making sure that care would be sustainable for our families in the area. I feel that having child care in the school will keep this important resource in the area for many years to come.”

Including child care centers in schools seems a natural fit. “Schools are uniquely positioned for success due to their existing facilities, maintenance, human resources, and education resources that can be used to support child care and early childhood programs,” said Neises. For more information about addressing child care challenges in your community, contact Neises at 563-588-2700 or