Oconto Falls childcare center moves ahead

Center will be Encompass’ eighth when it opens in 2024

Encompass Early Education and Care Inc. of Green Bay has completed its acquisition of the former Kaempfer and Associates building and is moving ahead with plans to open a new childcare center in Oconto Falls in 2024.

Oconto County is in what is known as a childcare desert, an area with little or no access to quality childcare, said Encompass Executive Director Missy Schmeling.

“We worked hand-in-hand with local community and education leaders to make the opening of the center possible,” she said. “The new center will provide 140 childcare slots to the community.”

Encompass purchased a building at 650 E. Jackson St. that it will renovate to create the 14,000-square-foot center. The center’s amenities are expected to include:

• Classrooms for infants, toddlers, 2-year-olds, preschool and school age

• State-of-the-art outdoor play areas to accommodate all ages

• Community Collaboration room

• Best-in-class early childhood equipment

• Ample green space

• A safe, welcoming environment for children to learn and grow

The nonprofit organization operates seven childcare centers in Green Bay, De Pere and Pulaski. Schmeling said families have already approached Encompass about getting on a waiting list for the Oconto Falls facility.

To help renovate the building, Encompass received a grant of $250,000 from Oconto County Public Health’s American Rescue Plan funding and is working on a grant with the City of Oconto Falls and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. The nonprofit has also applied for additional grants and launched a fundraising campaign to complete the funding for the project.

Oconto County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Jayme Sellen said the new Encompass center in Oconto Falls will help area families and Oconto County overall.

“For every one child care slot in Oconto County, there are five children waiting for an opening causing parents to either seek care from family members, drive long distances or leave the workforce,” Sellen said. “Encompass coming to Oconto Falls will be a catalyst for generational change for the families, employers and communities in Oconto County.”

Plans are for the new center to employ a lead director, an associate director and look to hire more than 20 educators.

Encompass bases its approach on three pillars, Schmeling said:

Affordability: The nonprofit provides a tuition assistance program that supports working families, and its Advocate Program provides support to retain children and families in care.

“Best in” classrooms: Each Encompass center is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Encompass uses High Scope’s Educational Approach, which emphasizes active learning and providing children with direct, hands-on experiences with people, objects, events and ideas.

Hire, retain the best educators: An estimated 63% of program staff hold an associate degree or higher. Encompass’ compensation levels are above childcare industry averages, and the nonprofit invests in employees’ professional development, encouraging a philosophy of always growing, Schmeling said.

Established in 1919, Encompass serves more than 1,100 children from six weeks to 12 years old at its seven centers. Most offer 4-year-old kindergarten programs in partnership with the Green Bay, Pulaski and West De Pere school districts. Schmeling said Encompass also strives to be part of the communities in which we serve.