Wilderness Trace director says center struggles yearly to make ends meet

Published 6:27 pm Thursday, March 28, 2019

Editor’s note: This is the fifth story in a series focused on agency funding requests made to the City of Danville for fiscal year 2019-20.

Libby Suttles told the Danville City Commission during its previous agency funding meeting that Wilderness Trace Child Development Center struggles every year to sustain “this mission that really began with parents gathering together.”

This year, Wilderness Trace requested $25,000 from the City of Danville; it was allocated $16,200 last year. Suttles said she would not have been “serving my population well if I hadn’t asked for an increase that is congruent with the needs of this center.”

Email newsletter signup

Suttles said the center has 16 on staff; $432,708 goes for personnel expenses, according to its budget. “If I had all the resources, we would have a few more people,” Suttles said.

Suttles says they are the only non-profit preschool dedicated to serving children with needs in the state that focuses on children with developmental delays who are “medically fragile and really need that small classroom with therapeutic services.”

The center takes children with special needs, ages 2-5, and currently has a waiting list. Suttles said the greatest need of the center is more space. “We hate to not be able to serve all the children out there who need it,” she said. She has been working on researching and writing grants to hopefully help with an expansion.

“I think our community sustains so many amazing efforts … I’ve been serving on an alliance in the community to look at spaces available where we can do more collaboration, more wrap-around services for all children of preschool age,” Suttles said.

The center has been serving more and more children affected by drugs, she said, which can stem from addictions with which they are born.

“Substance abuse has impacted children who are born with a disadvantage — different sensory issues and behavior becomes a challenge, but also the physical” difficulties, she said.

“We’re serving more and more of these children and it’s becoming more and more challenging to secure funding for the center’s model,” Suttles said. “We try so hard to be really independent with fundraising efforts.”

Commissioner Kevin Caudill asked how Bluebird Market was doing, which is one of those fundraising efforts — it takes donated items to sell, and all the money goes to the center.

Suttles said Bluebird is “still strong for what the market is, but we can’t control our inventory.” She said this community is “incredibly blessed with generous people, and we wouldn’t be able to sustain the center” without the market.

“I thought it would be the icing on the cake, but it’s turned out to be the cake,” Suttles said.

Mayor Mike Perros asked what the demographic of the school looks like. Suttles said most of the children come from the Danville school district, then next Boyle and Lincoln counties, and they have some from Casey, Pulaski and Mercer counties.

“But the highest amount is from Danville,” she said.

Commissioner Rick Serres asked, “you get nothing from insurance or Medicare?”

“Correct,” she said. “We’re working on that.” She said they have not been able to do that because it is considered a private non-profit. But they are now able to bill Medicaid for outpatient therapy.

“The center just doesn’t really have a way to control kind of our own finances,” Suttles said. “Except for tuition for people who can privately pay, and our school contracts — but money from the state has decreased over $1,000 per child.”

She said last year, that resulted in a $20,000 gap to try to make up.

“That was money that we could depend on, and I know it’s not your burden to carry for the state, but I want to keep the center in business,” Suttles said. She said the center is looking at ways to “overturn every rock.”

Last year, Suttles said the center began therapies for children who aren’t being able to be served because of the “huge waiting list at Kids Can Do,” the pediatric therapy center run through Ephraim McDowell Regional Health. “That has been dramatic for us as well — another tough service to sustain, but the need is there.”

Suttles said the center has received funding from Lincoln, Boyle and Mercer fiscal courts, as well as the City of Harrodsburg. “You’re not the only ones we pester. We’re serving their children as well.”