COLUMBIA — When Monica Miller was 18, she had two children, worked two jobs and attended two hours of school a day at Hickman High School. She needed someone to look after her children while she provided for her family.
She found Lucinda Jones.
Nearly 20 years later, Miller, 37, and Jones, 52, are business partners who run a 24-hour day care in Columbia.
Miller said recently that since the day care, Dusk To Dawn and days too Child Care Center, opened Jan. 24, enrollment has been steadily increasing. She said three to five new children have been joining the program each week.
The day care at 1626 Towne Drive is an expansion of Miller’s previous home day care, which also was open 24 hours a day.
With the new facility, Miller and her staff can care for 60 nonrelated children at one time, compared to the 10 nonrelated children who were allowed in the home day care at one time.
With the increases in enrollment, Miller said the daytime shifts are almost completely full. She estimated that the evening and overnight shifts are about 10 percent full.
The day care is running weekend and overnight specials to reach out to more parents who are looking for evening-hour child care. Miller said many of the parents who do take advantage of the evening and overnight hours work in hospitals or factories or are students.
J.R. Rogers has been bringing his 4-year-old daughter, Reagan, off and on since she was 3 months old to Miller's day care. Rogers, who works installing heating and air conditioning, said he relied on Dusk To Dawn for its flexible hours when he had to go into work early or late.
"I would definitely have to change my schedule at work because right now I'm a single parent," Rogers said. "So they're my backup plan."
Monette Jordan, a client of Miller's since 2007, said it is important not only that a 24-hour day care exists but also important that she can leave her two daughters — Alon, 7, and Syni, 6 — there without worrying.
"I trust her (Miller) with the 24 hours, and there's not many people you want your kids to fall asleep with," Jordan said. "But it's that connection she has with the kids that makes you feel comfortable leaving your kids overnight."
Miller said she thinks her motherly quality helps her clients trust her, and she credits her passionate personality to Jones. Miller said that when she was 18 and looking for child care, Jones made her feel as though they were family rather than strangers.
"It wasn't just like, 'OK, drop your kids off, pay me, and I'm going to feed them and teach them some ABCs, and that's that,'" Miller said. "It was just more personal than a business relationship, and I thought that was more important to me, being a young mom and having younger kids. I wanted somebody that felt comfortable."
Jones helped provide child care for Miller, a newly single parent after her husband at the time moved to Sedalia in 1992. But Jones said Miller's maturity, work ethic and passion for children helped her get through the struggling times.
Jones also said Miller's caring personality will help the day care be successful. She had this quality from the day the two met, she said.
"Even then she was — she was a mother," Jones said.
Regardless of where it came from, Miller hopes to use her welcoming personality to expand the program and to continue to foster good relationships with the children and their parents.
"My goal is No. 1 to be known in Columbia for providing quality care," Miller said. "I don't want people to be dissatisfied even though you’re always going to have somebody that has a complaint or two. I just want them to know that regardless of what little detail they found that they didn’t like, they can still say, 'They took great care of my kid.'"
One way Miller works to make her program meaningful and beneficial to children is by providing them opportunities to learn.
"I'm really, really big on education," Miller said. "I see a lot of kids, unfortunately, that will come in here, and they can cuss you out, and they can rap a song, or they can sing something that they shouldn't be singing. But they can't tie their shoes, or they can't recite their ABCs. Or if I say, 'Twinkle, twinkle little star,' they have no idea what I'm talking about. So, I really, really push education. I push just kid's stuff."
Miller said the program focuses on educational activities during the day and provides time for homework in the evenings for older children who come after school. The day care also attempts to keep the parents updated on progress their children are making through reports sent home daily.
"It was just really keeping you involved in your child's day care, regardless of how long you were gone," Jordan said. "She really made me feel a part of my child's education."
One reason Miller wants the children who attend her day care to be so successful is because of her past. She said her faith and people in her life, such as Jones, helped her realize that she can be successful despite difficult situations. Miller hopes to share this lesson by leading by example.
"I think my biggest message would be: Don't let a statistic determine your life," Miller said. "I think that if that's all you hear or if that's where people put you or place you, it's possible to get stuck there. And I think that if someone wants it, they just got to go get it.
"Everything is available to everyone," she said. "It's just a matter of taking the path you have to take to get to it. And that does include some struggles, but it can be done. You just push through."