Ravenswood Manor Child Care Center, 2758 W. Montrose Ave. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

RAVENSWOOD MANOR — After more than 20 years serving neighborhood families, the owners of Ravenswood Manor Child Care Center are closing later this year, forcing staff to find other jobs and parents to find day care for their children within a few weeks.

Mary and James Newbold opened the popular day care, 2758 W. Montrose Ave., in 1999. When parents picked up their children last week, James Newbold was outside waiting for them with letters from his wife announcing the center would shut down Dec. 3.

“We realize that the closing of the center will inconvenience our parents for which we apologize,” Mary Newbold wrote in the letter. “To the extent that we can do anything to facilitate your ability to find alternative day care arrangements, please let us know. We will make every attempt to facilitate a smooth transition.”

The Newbolds also own Sunnyside Child Care Center, 4500 N. Winchester Ave., and Ravenswood Montessori School, 1945 W. Wilson Ave. Only the Ravenswood Manor day care is slated to close. 

Reached by phone Thursday, Mary Newbold said after more than 20 years at the Ravenswood Manor location and running two other day cares, she’s “just tired.”

In a separate interview, James Newbold said there were multiple factors leading the couple to close down, but the most challenging one was finding and retaining staff for the Ravenswood Manor center over the past six months. 

“We’ve been there for a long time. We made an attempt to sell the business that did not pan out. So we’ve decided that the best course, given the difficulty with recruiting staff, was to close the business,” James Newbold said. 

While James Newbold said the staffing problems are specific to the Ravenswood Manor location, employees said keeping staff has been a challenge at all three locations for months.

Parents said they began hearing about staffing changes and shortages during the summer. 

Former day care director Nada Matic told parents in a June 16 email she would be on vacation to her home country until the end of August. Toddler teacher Angelica Quiles was to take over as interim director.

Matic never returned, parents and staff said.

By end of September, Quiles told parents there would be a “transitional period” for the center after Matic and another teacher resigned. Quiles would remain as interim director and focus on hiring staff and training “them to the high standard of care [Ravenswood Manor] has always provided your child and family,” she wrote in an email. 

Quiles also said the center was getting staffing help from Ravenswood Montessori while they looked for new teachers.

“Nada, the past director, typically went to Europe for about a month or so and returned. She told us again she’d be leaving this summer,” parent Callie Czerkie said. “Then we get an email from Angelica telling us Nada wasn’t coming back from Europe. That is when it seemed things were really becoming unstable.”

Day cares across the country have struggled with staffing in recent months.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children surveyed more than 7,500 day care workers this summer, and 80 percent said their facilities were short on workers or had at least one open role unfilled for at least one month. 

The majority of workers also said retention got more difficult during the pandemic, especially for programs serving families who need financial assistance.

“The COVID pandemic has reinforced the essential role of child care and early learning for children, working families and the economy,” the survey’s authors said. “Emergency federal and state relief funds have provided critical support for stabilizing child care programs and preventing more widespread permanent program closures, but they do not address the systemic challenges that have plagued the child care market — parents and providers alike — for decades.”

Parents said they didn’t understand how the Ravenswood Manor day care could close when it has a waitlist and comes highly recommended by other parents. Parent Liz Kores said she heard of other day cares struggling during the pandemic but thought the popularity of Ravenswood Manor would keep it in business.

“We were just shocked,” Kores said. “Our daughter is almost a year old, and we applied to the day care before she was even born because there was a waitlist at the time. Parents are just so eager to get in.”

Parents also praised the precautions the day care staff took to keep their children safe during the pandemic. Parents aren’t allowed to enter the building; they must line up outside and use an app to notify the staff when they’re ready to pick up their children. 

Demelza Wheeler-Ozanne, another parent, recently moved to Portage Park and has commuted to the day care for months “because it felt so much like home,” she said.

“It’s very difficult to find a place that you have so much trust in and so much faith in, especially during a global pandemic when your child is unvaccinated and in a group setting,” Wheeler-Ozanne said. “The staff there is second to none.”

Czerkie’s son has been in day care since she was coming off maternity leave; the staff helped her overcome “first-time parent jitters” of leaving a child, she said. Her son is about to age out of Ravenswood Manor, so she’d been making other arrangements, but she said she feels for the parents who expected to rely on the day care. 

Parents also worry the staff at Ravenswood Manor may be out of a job come the winter holidays, and they are asking other day cares to consider hiring them as soon as possible. 

“These are amazing child care workers and amazing people who all of our children have really grown to love and think of as families,” Czerkie said. “We want to do what we can for them because we really do feel like they have become a part of our family.”

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