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A new community initiative focused on providing affordable childcare has come to Seward. Happy Youth Programs and Educational Resources (HYPER) is a volunteer organization “committed to provide resources to caregivers, educators, and organizations that are dedicated to providing care, education, and engagement opportunities to youth aged 0-5 years old and their families in the Seward, AK area,” according to the group’s mission statement.

Among HYPER’s main goals is to provide a licensed childcare facility to the Seward community. Currently childcare costs run roughly $800 a month per child. Establishing a licensed facility would entitle parents to State subsidies that could potentially pay up to 100 percent of the costs.

“When you have a licensed childcare facility, families are able to access the State childcare assistance program, which will either pay all of your daycare costs or, depending on your income and your household size, will give a little bit of a subsidy to help you pay for that,” said HYPER Chair Casie Warner. “If we only have unlicensed providers in the community, families are unable to tap into that resource, which often makes it a lot cheaper to have one of the adults in the home stay home to care for the children.”

Currently Seward’s two major licensed providers, operating from their respective homes, are only able to accommodate 20 children between them, less than half the city’s demand. At Monday’s City Council meeting, Warner offered a presentation outlining the benefits of expanding licensed childcare. To this end, HYPER is laying the groundwork for bringing a licensed facility to Seward. The group plans to offset operation costs for the proposed center with a children’s museum.

“Not only would that children’s museum act as a financial arm for the childcare center, but it’ll also give our current families living in Seward a healthy space to take their children to support them and encourage them and give them an opportunity to learn in a hands-on environment. The children’s museum will also be another attraction to capitalize on our tourism that we have in the summertime.”

Initially the museum will be planned as a series of quarterly pop-up exhibits until a permanent location can be secured. The first exhibit will be staged at Temple Studios and focus on the Alaska Failroad and the historical significance of coal in Alaska. The exhibit will feature train cars, a mock coal mine and a mercantile store supplying mining provisions. Opportunities to pan for gold will also be provided. It is planned to run every Thursday - Saturday from Aug. 5 to Aug. 28. Warner stated that ideally such exhibits would fund the childcare facility. 

“If this is my magic wand, we’d be able to take some of that revenue to help support families that can’t afford the childcare, or they don’t qualify for daycare assistance, or whatever the family need may be, and access the childcare so that way they can be part of the workforce and be able to live in Seward,” she said.

Warner went on to add that childcare should be part of any conversation addressing Seward’s current housing crisis. 

“You have to have both parents in the workforce to be able to afford to live in Seward,” she said. “Seward’s expensive, and it’s just getting more expensive. If we want to talk about the lack of housing and the affordability of it, we have to talk about childcare at the same time. Those things go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”

HYPER is currently seeking federal grants and a partnership with the City of Seward in order to secure a future childcare facility. The group has begun to explore the potential purchase of the former Big Bay Beginnings Childcare Center. Financial contributions to the project can be made to the Seward Prevention Coalition, memo: Hyper, PO Box 482, Seward, Alaska 99664. All donations are tax-deductible. More information is available via email at bloom.sewardak@gmail.com.