After more than 40 years, Sunshine ‘N’ Rainbows close
The City of Red Oak, and the surrounding area, has lost one of its key childcare providers.
On March 17, Sunshine ‘N’ Rainbows Child Resource Center & Lil’ Tigers Preschool closed its doors. Director Alex McFarland, who had been serving in the position since 2017, said the closure marked the end of a 44-year history of Sunshine ‘N’ Rainbows serving the community.
“It started in October 1979 in the basement of the first Christian Church at 7th and Coolbaugh streets. It was eventually relocated to its current location at 1201 Highland Ave. in July of 1994,” McFarland said.
Sunshine ‘N’ Rainbows Board Member Tammy Wingad added that the current location was the former location of the hospital. The building was expanded to accommodate the child care center.
McFarland said monetary issues and the COVID-19 pandemic were the primary reasons behind the center’s recent closure. Another reason for the center closing was a lack of community support.
“Before COVID hit, we were doing amazing. We had almost full capacity with enrollments, and once COVID hit, we lost a lot of enrollments. We started out having to do a partial shutdown to help with the need for social distancing, and then ended up shutting down for two full weeks for quarantine, before we were able to reopen,” explained McFarland. “After that, enrollments just seemed to fluctuate, and never returned to where they were supposed to be.”
Another complication, McFarland said, was that all of the available state funding that had been issued during the COVID-19 pandemic ended.
“That funding had been helping make up our difference from our reduced enrollment and was allowing us to hang on and keep going. With the funding ceased, the costs of our overhead versus our income was vastly different. The only way to make up that difference was to be at capacity again. We’ve advertised, but we could never gain ground. We’d gain enrollments, then lose enrollments. There was never any consistency. We pushed this as far as we could. We were completely done when we shut down,” advised McFarland. “We thought we might be able to make some changes to survive, like raising our rates, but in the end it was just too little, too late. There were a lot of factors, and it was not a decision that was taken lightly at all. We’ve been fighting to save this place for quite some time.”
McFarland said that attempts to reach out for assistance also failed to pan out and prevent the closure.
“We have been to community meetings to state the need we had, and we went to the state capitol, and tried to plead our case. We applied for multiple grants, and we really did work as hard as we could. We made so many improvements, and it’s sad to watch all of it go away,” McFarland commented.
In addition to causing closures, Wingad felt that the COVID-19 pandemic also had an effect on the need for childcare in general.
“Parents started working from home during the pandemic, and some still do, so I feel that changed the need for child care, which ended up having an effect on us. We’ve heard many times that we’re very much needed, but without the enrollments, we were simply unable to continue,” Wingad said.
Wingad felt a lot of good things had been done to and for the facility, and the decision to close March 17 was made for a reason.
“We wanted to end on a good note. We didn’t want to end up upside down. The closing down date was selected to prevent us from going into the red,” stated Wingad. “We’ve got a lot of memories, we’ve done a lot of good, and we appreciate all the families and the parents that have supported us. We needed it to just be a little bit more widespread in order to keep us going, but we’re proud of being open for 44 years, and we’re happy to end it on a positive note.”
McFarland said she was approached by a number of people before and after the closure for ideas on how to save the center. McFarland said at this point, a benefactor would be the center’s only hope to re-open.
“A benefactor would have to continue basically splitting the difference of our expenses vs. our income. If we could get our enrollments back up to where we could sustain ourselves, we could keep going, but we’d still need that helping hand until we were back to where we need to be. At the time of our closure we were at 35 enrollments. Our capacity for enrollments is 90,” advised McFarland.
McFarland said if that person would step forward, they would look at reopening, as no one at the center wanted to leave, but the window for that opportunity is quickly closing.
“I feel like this center serves an important area in the community. We serve a lot of low-income families that have nowhere else to go, and provide a safe and happy place for kids during the day. We’re a huge family here. One of our staff has been here for 31 years. I’ve been here for 13 years altogether. If we were to pull a Hail Mary and have someone willing to make up the difference until we’re back on our feet, we would definitely look at reopening,” advised McFarland. “Also, we’d really need the community to back us 100%. I’m not sure what happened, but sometimes it feels like the community has simply forgotten about us.”
Wingad agreed with McFarland, while also expressing some confusion as the center is a community-owned, non-profit child care center run by a board of directors.
“We’ve often asked ourselves if the community realizes we belong to them. And we do our best to put ourselves out there in the parades, and the public eye, and being involved in the Red Oak Chamber and Industry Association,” Wingad said.
While not giving an exact time frame for someone to step forward, McFarland did say that the building was put on the market for sale after the closure of its doors on March 17, and there had been multiple people expressing an interest in purchasing the building.
Head Start also operates out of the building, and Head Start officials have stated they are interested in keeping their location and renting if the building is sold. McFarland also said they are trying to work into the potential sales clause that Head Start would be able to operate until the end of its session in May.
McFarland said if the center is truly closed after March 17, she’s uncertain as to what the future holds for her.
“I have no idea how long I’m going to be here after it’s closed, but I’ll be here taking care of things after the closure until the building is potentially sold. I haven’t really thought about my future, I’m just looking forward to spending some extra time with my own kids for a bit,” commented McFarland.
As for Wingad, she plans to spend more time focusing on caring for animals on land she and her husband share located between Oakland and Council Bluffs.
McFarland said she felt that Sunshine ‘N’ Rainbows was a positive influence in the community, and now that they are closed, she hopes the community can see what they have done over their 44-year history in Red Oak. She also reiterated her gratitude for the support the center has received from parents and families, as well as the support from area businesses that provided the center donations.
“We have had support, and we appreciate every little bit that we had. It just wasn’t quite enough here at the end,” McFarland said.
Anyone with questions can call McFarland at 623-2285, or email sunshinenrainbows.com.