Story and photos by Chris Rotolo
RED BANK – Heidi Zaentz shared hugs with generations of families Friday afternoon at the Monmouth Day Care Center.
She shook hands with government officials and cut a rug with a group of children in an ’80s-themed classroom adorned with purple decorations, an ode to the late iconic rocker Prince, noted Zaentz, executive director of the day care center.
Toddlers designed and wore festive hats and posed for photos alongside inflatable Martians and inside cardboard rocket ships. They even put their dance moves on display to sing-along numbers delivered by the center’s own beverage distributor “John the Milkman.”
It was by no means a normal day at the center. But rather one reserved for the celebration of 50 years of affordable child care in the heart of the borough, and a party highlighted by an elaborate cake baked in the shape of the number “50” and topped with fresh fruit by resident chef Dina Harris.
“Today is all about love, caring, commitment and a lot of gratitude,” Zaentz told The Two River Times at the Jan. 25 birthday event. “We have families who have been with us through the generations and some of them are here right now. It shows how grateful they are for what we offer and how blessed we are to be part of this community.”
Caring for Generations
For half a century the Monmouth Day Care Center has prided itself on providing a safe and stimulating environment that can nurture newborns and challenge older children intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically.
The nonprofit organization was founded in 1969 and offers scholarships and a sliding scale of fees for those families who are in need.
Zaentz said the center currently has a baby in its nursery whose mother was a 4-year-old the first year she stepped into the executive director role 20 years ago.
“We want to stop the cycle of poverty,” Zaentz added. “We want families to have a secure place, so they can feel comfortable going off to work while their children are with us. And the fact so many of our alumni are now bringing their children here, to me, it means we’re doing something right. It means they’re proud of what we do and had a positive experience themselves.”
According to Amy Thomas, the center’s development coordinator, the facility serves families from Asbury Park, Eatontown, Fair Haven, Hazlet, Little Silver, Long Branch, Middletown, Red Bank, Shrewsbury and Tinton Falls. Thomas also indicated that 48 percent of the children enrolled at MDCC are from single-parent households.
“This place does so much for the greater Red Bank area and 50 years is an incredible milestone for any organization, let alone a nonprofit as important as this one,” state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) said. “The programs the center offers are integral to families with young children. And the strong connection these parents have with staff members is easy to see.”
Supporting a Community Staple
According to Thomas’ figures, 33 percent of MDCC’s annual income is from a stipend offered by the Red Bank Borough Public School District. Another 31 percent comes via government subsidy payments. Additionally, 13 percent is through fundraising efforts and events, while 4 percent comes from grants and private donations.
Only 19 percent of the center’s income comes from private tuition payments and, as the cost of infant and preschooler care rises, the services the organization can provide is being stretched thin.
According to Thomas, in 2018 there was a weekly shortfall of $57.80 for enrolled infants. That total jumped to $68.40 for registered preschoolers.
“It’s so wonderful to see that the center is thriving like it is, but it certainly is deserving of more support,” said Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-13). “It’s days like today, where I’m able to come out, and other government officials are able to be on hand and experience this first hand. We can help bring awareness to all that this place has to offer, because it really is tremendous.”
The Two River Community Bank did its part to aid the cause during a Jan. 23 Borough Council meeting, when the local trust presented the center with a $25,000 donation.
“Monmouth Day Care Center cuts across all sectors of our community and it’s really been safe haven,” Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna said. “This is something that’s needed in Red Bank and it shows that we can work together to make things that are truly important, like the care of a child, affordable.”