Iron Tykes Learning Center–an example of a successful community daycare project
courtesy of Iron Tykes

Iron Tykes Learning Center–an example of a successful community daycare project

Although Cook County is a wonderful place to raise a family, it also has its challenges. Housing is in short supply for young families.  It can be difficult to find full-time jobs with adequate wages. And often, if a job is found, a family cannot find daycare.

WTIP Community Radio has reported on this situation, most recently with the potential closure of one childcare option in the county, the Cooperation Station, due to staff shortages. Parents and community members are working to keep the Cooperation Station open, but that is only part of the childcare puzzle in the community.

It is agreed that more childcare is needed, but how to reach that goal is something yet to be determined. As part of a WTIP series Childcare Challenges for Cook County three years ago, we spoke with another community struggling with this issue, Mountain Iron, Minnesota. At that time, that community was working to build a large daycare facility.

Iron Tykes Learning Center opened its doors in November 2018. It is an 8,500 square foot building with five classrooms, a kitchen, two playgrounds, and a gym. Shawntel Gruba, the center’s CEO tells WTIP that there are 25 staff members.

Iron Tykes Learning Center is licensed for 90 children, but serves more than that, as not all kids are at the center every day, all day. Gruba told WTIP that while this helps the childcare crunch in Mountain Iron, it has still not solved the problem. She said there is still a long waiting list for families wanting to enroll.

In this interview, WTIP’s Rhonda Silence revisits that conversation to learn more about how this project came to fruition, through major public-private partnerships. Gruba worked with the Small Business Development Center, which helped her with grants from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, Northland Foundation, the United Way, and Cleveland Cliffs Mining. Gruba said the city and county also supported the project.

WTIP asked Gruba if she had any advice for the people in Cook County tackling the childcare shortage in our community.
Gruba’s answer? “Don’t give up.”

She noted that when she started her quest to build Iron Tykes Learning Center, she was working for $8 an hour. She said she didn’t think there was any way she could get a loan for over a million dollars to construct a new business. “It can happen,” she said, “You just need to find the right person who wants to own it, wants to operate it, and wants to work it, who has that passion.”
“Dreams could come true,” said Gruba.