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The house doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside, it saves children.
On a quiet street near Granger High, the little white building with vinyl siding serves as the West Valley City Crisis Nursery. In the oppressive July heat, it looks bottled up, closed even, though inside it's a frenzy of activity: A little boy tumbles over big plastic toys, a girl somersaults on the chocolate-colored sofa, two wide-eyed babies squeal in nearby high chairs.
The Family Support Center operates three crisis nurseries others are in Sugar House and Midvale but according to Executive Director Bonnie Peters, Salt Lake City has a major coverage gap in its northwest neighborhoods. As a result, officials are looking for donations to expand into a new location somewhere in the Rose Park or Glendale areas.
The crisis centers • Founded in 1977, crisis nurseries offer support for families who need help in a pinch. Peters said that can mean a parent who suddenly has a job interview or counseling session, but has no one to watch the baby. Or, it can involve a child facing potential abuse who needs to get out of the home. Even if parents simply feel overwhelmed, they can leave their children at the nurseries for up to 72 hours. During that time, trained staffers feed the kids, play games and do their best to keep everyone happy.
The point, Peters said, is to help families overcome the difficulties of child rearing that are compounded by issues such as working multiple jobs, having low incomes and a lack of transportation.
"Parents really try to do the best they can," she added, "but sometimes the stress gets to you."
Staffers also can work with families who have ongoing needs to find long-term child-care solutions.
Today, the nurseries operate as private nonprofits. Funding comes from government grants, private donations and other sources. The yearly budget for one nursery is just less than $250,000. The nurseries are located in older, donated homes.
A push to the northwest • In June, Peters spoke with leaders in the northwest neighborhoods. She said she received an "overwhelming" response that the area needed a nursery.
Peters said the area would particularly benefit from a nursery because it's home to many lower-income households and has high rates of unemployment and child abuse.
The problem is compounded, Peters said, by a lack of transportation options; in most cases, it is difficult or impossible for people in Rose Park and Glendale to reach the valley's other crisis nurseries via public transit.
"People are pretty much isolated in terms of transportation," Peters said, adding that Interstate 15 cuts off the west side and can be an "almost impermeable barrier."
Rosemarie Hunter, director of the University of Utah's University Neighborhood Partners program, agreed that the Glendale and Rose Park areas would benefit from a crisis nursery. Hunter cited many of the same issues lower incomes, unemployment, higher stress due to the recession and said that, among other things, the nurseries allow people to avoid choosing between their children and their jobs.
"Many people do not have regular day care available," Hunter said. "It allows families to have a more sustainable way of caring for their children in safe ways."
Hunter also noted that west Salt Lake City has traditionally been home to immigrant and arriving populations that could particularly benefit from the nurseries. Having one closer to the neighborhoods would help.
The importance of proximity • Thursday morning, Scott Sherner and his wife, Debora, dropped off their nearly 2-year-old daughter, Sierra, at the West Valley City nursery. Sherner said he prefers to find a baby sitter in his neighborhood, but when he can't, he uses the nursery.
"It has helped a lot when something comes up, spur of the moment," Sherner said.
By coincidence, Sherner lives in the neighborhood where the West Valley City nursery is located.
He's so close, in fact, that sometimes he and Debora just walk over.
"It's close, it's convenient," Sherner said. "If we had to drive farther away, we might not use it."
In the northwest part of Salt Lake City, community leaders believe that kind of convenience could make a difference. Jo Ann Anderson, chairwoman of the Jordan Meadows Community Council, said she supports efforts to put a nursery in nearby Rose Park or Glendale because people need it but can't access existing facilities.
"There's a lot of low-income people that don't have the transportation, and they could either walk or take the bus or take TRAX," she said of a potential new facility.
Andrew Johnston, chairman of the Poplar Grove Community Council, agreed, describing a potential future crisis nursery as a "good neighbor."
Making it happen • According to Peters, the Family Support Center needs a donated home or property to open a crisis nursery in northwest Salt Lake City. The organization also can work with smaller donations.
Peters stressed that the crisis nurseries offer a safety net that helps in a time of need and can help prevent problems before they even start.
"How do we document child abuse that hasn't occurred?" Peters wondered. "We want to see families together."
Top reasons parents used Salt Lake County crisis nurseries in 2012 and 2013
Respite care/stress breaks • 3,376 visits
Medical emergency • 2,372 visits
Work-related • 1,984 visits
Court or legal obligations • 849 visits
Parent attending counseling • 644 visits
Drug or alcohol related • 575 visits
Child homeless • 484 visits
Death and suicide • 95 visits
Incarceration • 22 visits Looking for donations