Foster grandparent Annie Bell Rayford plays with Lamar Johnson, 3.
Five babies slumber in the darkened nap room at Toledo Day Nursery on Jefferson Avenue, the only sound the hypnotic hum of a nearby drier.
In the adjacent play room, three other babies are in varying stages of wakefulness, while another who had resisted sleep has now surrendered - flat on his back, arms flopped like little goal posts, in a pose of unqualified trust.
For 135 years, children and parents have put such faith in Toledo Day Nursery - the oldest child-care center in Ohio and the fourth oldest in the United States. All four of its locations are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a distinction that's earned by only about 7 percent of early childhood programs in the country.
"We know today that we have families whose grandparents came to Toledo Day Nursery, their children, and their children's children," said Pat Scheuer, 57, who has been executive director for 10 years.
The first of them arrived in 1871 at what was then the Adams Street Mission, which was established to help unemployed Toledoans get back on their feet in the grim post-Civil War era. People lined up before 7 a.m. in hopes of getting work; meanwhile, the mission nursery bathed, supervised, and fed their children. If parents could afford it, they paid 5 cents a day for child care.
Toledo Day Nursery's Executive Pat Scheuer with Adrien Urbina, 13, months, and Je-dyn Williams, 9 months.
Today's Toledo Day Nursery families aren't so very different. The neediest pay just $1 a month; parents at the top of the sliding scale - and there aren't many, Mrs. Scheuer noted - pay weekly rates of $140 for a preschooler, $156 for a toddler, and $178 for an infant. Eighty percent of client families receive assistance through the Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services.
For parents such as Stephanie Bradley, 24, of West Toledo, the affordability of Toledo Day Nursery means she is able to hold a job and come out ahead financially. A receptionist at Heartland of Perrysburg, Miss Bradley pays $130 a month for child care for her 15-month-old daughter, Rylee Hernandez.
Without the price break she's eligible for, "I don't think I'd be able to have her in day care," Miss Bradley said.
Rylee has been enrolled for about four months. "Every day she is showing me something that she has learned," her mother said.
"Our mission does not say that we will serve only the low-income population," Mrs. Scheuer pointed out. "Our mission says we will serve working and student parents of Toledo. But because of where our locations are, we've always served the working poor of Toledo."
Administrative offices and a center for babies ages 6 weeks to 2 years are at 2211 Jefferson. The location at 219 Southard Ave. is for children 3 through 5, and one at 2902 Stickney Ave. has infants, toddlers, and preschoolers ages 6 weeks to 5 years. The newest location is at 1300 Jefferson and serves infants and toddlers whose moms are students at the Polly Fox Academy for pregnant and parenting teens in 7th through 12 grades.
A total of about 175 children are in Toledo Day Nursery's care on any given day. Because of turnover, the centers serve about 350 children a year. "Some of our parents are pretty transient," Mrs. Scheuer said.
Like the philanthropists and civic-minded citizens who established the Adams Street Mission long ago, donors still help pay the bills today. Mrs. Scheuer said about 23 percent of the nursery's funds come from United Way. Government funding makes up about 50 percent, and parents pay about 12 percent.
"The rest we raise through individual and corporate donations, grant writing, and special events such as the garden tour," Mrs. Scheuer said.
Called "In Another Garden," the tour returns for its 11th year from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, this time featuring gardens along Riverhills Lane off Corey Road in Sylvania Township. (See Wednesday's Peach section for details.)
The annual tour attracts 800 to 900 people and raises $25,000 to $30,000 for quality child care that Mrs. Scheuer believes is good for everyone - not just the Toledo Day Nursery children and parents. She said that although Toledo Day Nursery has not done follow-up studies, research by others has shown lasting benefits of "gold-standard" programs - those that include such things as developmental and health screenings, parent education, low staff-to-children ratios, and individualized curriculum.
"A lot of good research shows that the biggest part of brain development occurs before they're 3 years old," Mrs. Scheuer continued, adding that the impact of a high-quality developmental program for infants and toddlers can be life-long.
It was a more immediate concern that brought Phyllis Cannon, 42, and her son, Jalen Riley, 4, to Toledo Day Nursery about two years ago. Then 19 months old, Jalen needed the socialization of being with other children that he didn't get while in the care of his grandmother, Miss Cannon explained.
Still, "I was very nervous about putting him in day care," said Miss Cannon, a single South Toledo mom who works as an operations specialist in the tax department of Key Bank downtown.
She said she visited several centers before deciding on Toledo Day Nursery.
Today, Jalen goes to the Southard preschool center and his brother, Aaron Riley, 18 months, is at the infant/toddler center at 2211 Jefferson. Because she qualifies for a reduced price, she said, she pays $176 a month for the two children, compared with about $400 she paid for Jalen alone before she was approved for the lower rate.
Miss Cannon's satisfaction with the center goes beyond dollars and cents. A memory from her first visit to Toledo Day Nursery explains why.
She toured the building, asking questions: Where do the kids nap? What do they eat? When do they eat? Things like that.
But something else was on her mind. Miss Cannon was worried that there might be rules limiting staff members' physical contact with children. So she asked the administrator who was showing her around: "What happens if they need a hug?"
"She looked at me and smiled and said, 'We just hug them,'●" Miss Cannon recalled. "That's what endears Toledo Day Nursery to my heart, because all the teachers there will hug your child if he needs a hug. Even if he's being ornery."
Those hugs alone might have life-long value.
"I think it gives them a sense that there is a whole world out there that cares about them," Miss Cannon said.
Contact Ann Weber at: email@example.com