The Families First Childcare Center in Boardman and the people making it happen impressed U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden.

“This is just incredible,” Wyden said.

The Democrat visited the center Tuesday, Aug. 31, and afterward promised to bring this success story to Washington.

The center serves 53 children and has “maxed out” its space at 255 Olson Road in Boardman. It has four classrooms for students, who are between six weeks old to 12 years old. It is open from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. It operates on a $50,000 budget each month. Sponsors provide $30,000 of this budget.

The center fills a need in its community to care for children when their parents are at work. This is a local problem recognized in communities throughout the country.

“We need more supply,” Wyden said, explaining child care presents a supply-side problem. This need is particularly strong among economically disadvantaged people.

“This need of child care in our community has been known for years,” said Torrie Griggs, Boardman Chamber of Commerce executive director. Griggs also is the Boardman Community Development Association executive director.

She praised the Port of Morrow for being a partner, building the facility and bringing in other partners, such as Boardman Foods and Threemile Canyon Farms.

Brian Maag, an owner of Boardman Foods, expressed the pleasure he gets out of Family First. He said he was blessed to be raised in a happy, stable family, and he wanted to give back to the community with a program that assists the happiness and stability of other families.

“We’re in a capital-intensive business that takes a lot of machinery, equipment and buildings to do, but, at the end of the day, the people are the most important,” he said. He said he wants to reinvest in families.

He said Families First is more than a babysitter; it is an educational center. If you can keep children at grade level, they have a better chance of success. He said the center in general and Brenda Profitt, director of Families First, is doing an excellent job of educating children.

Thomas J. Flaherty, also an owner of Boardman Foods, added he and Maag are from a family with a 100-year-old history in Oregon. They are, he said, “Oregonians to the core.” As such, they care about the state and the Boardman area, and they like what they see in Families First.

“This endeavor with this child care center is probably more fulfilling than anything we have ever done,” Flaherty said. Having gone through difficult times, he is grateful the Boardman community had “stuck with” him. He also said he appreciates Debbie Radie, Boardman Foods vice president, whom he called a “magical woman who makes things happen.”

Radie said, though Families First started in January, Boardman Foods actually began caring for workers’ families 17 years ago. Back then, an after-school program was started. In that program, schools would bus the workers’ children to a Boardman Foods facility. There, the children would snack and do homework while their parents completed their shifts.

COVID-19 increased the need of the after-school program, Radie said. With schools closed, children needed more supervision and educational resources. As a result, after-school program hours were extended.

The community spread word of the after-school program, Radie said. Soon, people who were not even employed by Boardman Foods were asking if they could enroll their children.

Needing more space, she received help from the Port of Morrow, which made available space in their new facility. With this as well as help from Profitt, she was able to move forward with the new space.

The center also received assistance from the Family First Prevention Services Act. Wyden and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wrote the legislation was to help people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is important work, said Varon Blackburn, Threemile Canyon Farms human resource manager.

“Last year, I had mothers working at Threemile Canyon Farms who couldn’t come to work because they didn’t have a place for their kids,” he said. He credited Radie for solving this problem and Marty Myers, visionary Threemile general manager, for seeking a solution to child care. Myers died December 2020.

“There’s no place like Families First here in Boardman,” said Dan Daltoso of Umatilla Morrow Head Start, which also wants to offer its support.

There is a need for physical infrastructure, Wyden said, but also a need to help people. Child care needs to be more plentiful and affordable and needs more programs such as Family First. He said this is not just an urban issue, but also a rural issue.

“Supporting kids is a hugely important statement about our values as Oregonians,” Wyden said. “We want to make sure that the little ones in our families are taken care of.”

Wyden also said that is a moral and an economic issue.

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