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Mikinaak Child Care: Going above and beyond day care

Andrea Headbird, executive director of Mikinaak Child Care, Inc., in Cass Lake, reads a book during story time. Headbird hopes to raise enough funds to turn the day care into a therapeutic child care center for children with special needs. Pioneer Photo/Anne Williams

Andrea Headbird has one more hurdle to cross before she can turn her dream into a reality.

Headbird, founder of Mikinaak Child Care, said she hopes to turn her day care into a therapeutic child care center. But first, she must find funding to purchase a new fire alarm system.

Mikinaak Child Care (mikinnaak means snapping turtle in the Ojibwe language), was started two years ago by Headbird and her husband, Jess. The day care is located in the basement of St. Peter's Church, on Third Street and Cedar Avenue in Cass Lake.

The center awaits a new fire alarm system to become a non-profit organization, which will provide holistic care for children with special needs.

"It's really hard to find a daycare that will work with children with special needs," said Headbird.

Headbird had envisioned a center like this since she started working in child care almost 30 years ago.

According to Headbird, she saw the need for a different type of childcare by looking at the high dropout rate of kids leaving school, a higher rate of grandparents taking sole care of grandchildren, and parents who miss opportunities to diagnose their child because they don't want to label them.

"I've seen so many children with behavior issues and special needs," said Headbird. "So many parents have told me they need a place to bring their children because no one else will take them."

Children with special needs are often missed at an early age, said Headbird. They must travel from one facility to the next in order for their needs to be met, carrying a long trail of paper with them.

"We hope to be the place that parents will feel safe to bring their kids to," said Headbird. "We hope to offer everything they need under one roof."

With enough funding, Headbird hopes the Mikinaak Child Care, Inc., will provide the following programs:

-- Adventure program offered to young children with developmental disabilities.

-- Autism day treatment designed for young children (18 months to 5 years) who have a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

-- Feeding therapy to help children with feeding disturbances to eat a balanced diet and experience less stress during mealtimes.

-- Physical therapy for children with a variety of disabilities in coordination, balance, and strength skills.

-- Occupational therapy to enhance play, learning, and interacting with others and self care.

-- Speech/language pathology to focus on speech production, language and oral motor development.

-- Music therapy to encourage socialization, self-expression and stress management.

-- Pediatric therapy groups.

-- Mental health therapy to use trained professionals to help individuals and families identify concerns, face challenges, and rebuild healthy lifestyles.

Mikinaak Child Care, Inc., would be the only therapeutic day care center in Cass, Beltrami, Hubbard and Itasca Counties.

"You can't find a center like this anywhere," said Rene Wright, staff member at Mikinaak. "You would have to travel to the cities to receive this kind of care."

Headbird says hiring certified teachers and professionals to work with children between the ages of 0-3 will play a key role in diagnosing special needs.

"At this young age kids are like sponges, they absorb so much," said Headbird. "We want to make the transition to be as smooth as possible for the child and the new teacher."

Headbird hopes the therapeutic center will open by January, but funding isn't easy to find. As a nonprofit organization, new doors have opened for funding sources, but the center is still far away from attaining money for a new fire system.

"A special need doesn't go away," said Headbird. "I want to show these kids there are other ways of learning to help them to succeed."

Headbird says the Mikinaak Child Care, Inc. has received letters from the community and the local schools in support of the child care center.

"We are asking donations to purchase the fire alarm system," she said. "The need has never been greater."