A South Minneapolis childcare provider celebrates 20 years of community service this week. On Friday, July 18, Oakland Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets will be the site of an all-day block party to recognize McDonald Sunshine Place Child Care Center’s two decades of service to parents and children.
“I am in a celebratory mood right now,” admits Dr. Andrea McDonald, whose Sunshine Place initially grew out of a little babysitting service started in her home in 1987. She left behind a corporate career and began nurturing and caring for 10 little children.
The group of children slowly grew, and McDonald was forced to find a new place for her expanding enterprise. She did so at the corner of Oakland and 38th Street East on Minneapolis’ South Side, starting McDonald Sunshine Place in 1988. It is one of the first Black-owned childcare centers in Minnesota.
McDonald later opened a second childcare center on Chicago Avenue — Sunshine Tree Child Development Center. In 2000, she won a contract with Hennepin County to open a downtown Minneapolis drop-in center called Sunshine Time. “The County wanted a childcare center to alleviate the excess of children in the room where people come and apply for assistance,” explains McDonald.
All three locations share the same objective: providing infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children with a structured learning environment. “My role is to nurture [children], to get them to a place where they can have stability to be on their own,” explains McDonald, a native of Jamaica.
There is no such thing as a typical child, McDonald continues. “There are different stages. You have some you can really manage, and some that are challenging. If we are not able to handle them, then we have a specialist come in, because some of these children really need one-on-one attention.”
She hates turning away a child, and rarely has had to — McDonald also employs a part-time early intervention specialist who steps in when consultation with the child’s parent or parents doesn’t work. However, in situations when all such efforts fail, “Then we let them go.”
A typical day at Sunshine includes breakfast and “study time,” McDonald notes. “We do multicultural assignments with [children], anywhere from reading [and] writing [to] dancing.”
There also are field trips and “special days”: “They go to Mall of America every Tuesday, and every Wednesday is library day,” says McDonald. And, of course, there’s nap and play times. “We allow them to explore and do what they feel comfortable doing under supervision.”
However, McDonald is quick to point out that her 20 years in child care hasn’t been without some challenges. “There are times that I feel busted, disgusted, frustrated, and would want to give up,” she admits. “But when I think of the role I play in the life of a child, then I keep going.”
Financial concerns, especially the last few years, have been evident as well. “It has affected me so much that at the end of 2006-07,” McDonald points out, “I started laying off folk. I was wondering whether I could go a step further.
“When I started child care, every September we would get a raise from the County. I think [that] for the past four years we have not gotten a raise, which makes it difficult for me to raise wages for the staff. We are still having a hard time keeping staff, because we are not able to pay them what they are worth. I don’t want to lose my staff — that is my greatest fear.”
Now, it’s rising gasoline prices affecting her bottom line. “We do transportation,” says McDonald. “We pick up the kids and charge [each family] $50 per month for gas, and the parents are not even able to pay it. [But] we go get them regardless.”
At present, McDonald has a staff of 30. Her daughter Evette McCarthy is her program administrator, and her husband of 47 years, Lewin, who serves as her top assistant, “is my number-one man,” she points out.
All three facilities are “not where we want to be, but it’s a lot better than it was two and a half years ago,” McDonald says proudly. “If it wasn’t for God, I don’t know how we would manage.”
Looking ahead to Friday’s celebration, McDonald says, “I am looking forward to that with great anticipation. It’s been 20 years, and I never thought I would be able to stand for 20 years with all the struggles that I have had.
“I love children, and I have a passion for what I do. I would not change it for anything else.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.