MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Northern Michigan University has announced a new partnership with Gretchen’s House that will guarantee NMU employees and students to childcare at a reduced rate.

According to gretchenshouse.com, Gretchen’s House is an Ann Arbor-based childcare provider that operates 10 centers throughout the state. Its programs are licensed by the state of Michigan and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a consortium of early childhood professionals whose accreditation program certifies high-quality early childhood programs. Its programs use the HighScope research based, child-centered, emergent curriculum for children of all ages. Gretchen’s House also operates the Little Huskies Child Development Center in Houghton for Michigan Technological University.

Gretchen’s House will open a facility a few blocks from campus in 2024 at Messiah Lutheran Church, with 35-40 spots available. NMU announced that it will invest $250,000 annually to subsidize childcare costs at Gretchen House for NMU employees and students. Rhea Dever, vice president of People, Culture, & Wellbeing in NMU’s Human Resources Department, hopes parents can start enrolling their children by the end of the calendar year.

“We do realize that childcare is a critical issue for families in our area, certainly a big concern for faculty, staff and students,” said Dever. “We view this as a critical issue when it comes to attracting and retaining employees here at NMU. We also think it’s important from a wellbeing perspective that we work alongside our employees to try to address this issue both from an access and a cost standpoint. So, this partnership with Gretchen’s House really helps us to address that, at least from you know, provides one option for our employees.”

Rachel May and Shilpa Jhobalia, co-chairs of the NMU Early Childhood Education Center Task Force, spearheaded this initiative and recruited Gretchen’s House to Marquette. May is an associate professor in the NMU English Department as well as a mother.

“I was bringing my infant to faculty meetings and department meetings and like putting them on the floor with snacks and some toys and desperately hoping we’re going to make it through that meeting, said May. “It was a juggle it was like living through the pandemic before the pandemic happened and hoping that I was going to be able to get everything done that work and then staying up really late after my kiddo was asleep, to try to finish all of the other work that I had to do like grading and other administrative work.”

Jhobalia is a mother of three and a parent liaison. Her husband is an NMU faculty member.

“I’m so happy that parent voice, caregiver voice has been heard, and that people recognize the struggle that you know young families have in raising young children today,” said Jhobalia. “And this is a way to bring people back into the workforce. I was a stay-at-home mom for over six years, and I was able to go back part time because my employer is flexible with childcare, and I could bring my children to work with me. That was the only way I was even able to come back part time and so I’m really hopeful that this kind of solution and businesses and institutions and organizations investing in childcare will help bring folks back to the workforce that want to work again.”

NMU currently covers six families through the Tri-Share state grant program, which covers one-third of childcare costs, with the remaining two-thirds split evenly between NMU and the eligible employee. Northern also participates in WeeCare, which provides NMU employees and students first opportunity at available childcare slots for both infants and toddlers, with a minimum guarantee of five slots. WeeCare operates an in-home daycare on the east side of Marquette, a few blocks from NMU’s campus. The new partnership with Gretchen’s House offers a third option designed to provide the NMU.

Enrollment will be handled directly through Gretchen’s House. According to Dever, Gretchen’s House plans to have an open-house for NMU employees and students sometime in mid-October. More information will be released to the NMU community once a date is solidified.