A waiting list attests to the success of a church day care center, where nurturing and teaching are emphasized.
SPRING HILL - Tomorrow's Hope.
It's a name meant to symbolize a bright future for the more than 50 students of First United Methodist Church preschool and day care center ministry and the community.
The early childhood education center has been completely full since it opened its doors in the fall of 2000 and currently maintains a waiting list.
The center accommodates 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds and recently was renovated to add a classroom for 2-year-olds. In addition, youngsters are brought in for after-school care. School hours are 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Full-time and part-time students are accepted year-round.
Tomorrow's Hope is led by Irma Nazario, 43, who has been in the business of child care for 18 years. The New York City native and former military wife lived in various European countries before returning to the States after the Persian Gulf War in 1991. She and her husband, Hector, moved to Spring Hill in 1993 to be close to family.
"I love children and couldn't have one, so I decided to go into (child care) to fill the emptiness," said Nazario, who experienced a miracle when she became pregnant about seven years ago.
"It was shocking," she said. "I now have a 6-year-old girl who's my life."
Before becoming the director at Tomorrow's Hope in November 2001, Nazario worked with various local preschools as a teacher and assistant director. She said she was drawn to Tomorrow's Hope specifically because it has a Christian curriculum.
"I feel better about myself and feel I can make an impact teaching (the youngsters) about God," she said.
Although the state requires only one teacher per 20 children to have a Child Development Association certificate, Tomorrow's Hope requires all of its teachers to have a CDA certificate or better, which they may achieve early in their employment.
In addition to teachers being certified in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the Association of Christian Schools International requires them to be committed Christians.
Despite the stringent requirements, Nazario said there has never been a problem with teacher turnover. But the center is looking for another teacher who is qualified to work with its curriculum.
Male teachers are badly needed. Tomorrow's Hope has never had a male teacher, Nazario said.
"We feel we do need male figures, especially for the boys, but the men feel the pay is not good," she said.
The Rev. Ronald Daniels said the question of a Christ-centered early childhood center owned and operated by the church came up periodically from 1992 to 1999. Daniels' answer was always "Yes, if we felt led in that direction and had the leadership to explore it."
In 2000, Tomorrow's Hope finally was born, "using Scripture as the biblical base for the ministry," the 57-year-old pastor said.
"Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs," said Daniels, quoting Matthew 19:14.
When the decision was made to begin a Christian preschool, the church asked one of its members to study the feasibility, cost, licensing, state regulations and its future outlook in Christian ministry. It was well known that Carolyn Kasper had worked as a teacher and administrator in the early childhood development field for 25 years, dating back to before she moved from Kent, Ohio, to Hernando County in 1989.
"Once I accepted (the challenge), I was committed to seeing it through and becoming a success and well known in the county, both of which have occurred," said Kasper, 45, who was the school's first and only director until she left in December 2002. How did she feel about leaving Tomorrow's Hope?
"I felt good about it because I knew it was in good hands and would offer kindergarten readiness," said Kasper, who nows works with the family court's guardian ad litem program, where she assists minor children who enter the court system.
"It's fulfilling just knowing you make a difference on each child," said Kasper, the mother of six teenagers.
Kasper influenced Margit Crowell to enroll her daughter, Ya Lan, in the preschool.
"I (talked) to the previous director about her philosophy and was impressed that she was very organized," said Crowell, a member of First United Methodist Church. "Ya Lan would go to church here and know the people."
Ya Lan has been attending Tomorrow's Hope for years and is leaving at age 5. "I'm happy that Ya Lan is in a caring environment and getting a Christian foundation, whether or not she decides on that later in life," Crowell said. "It's important now that she has an idea that life is more than going to work, making money, buying a car. She should know the spiritual world as well."
Crowell said one of the important aspects of Tomorrow's Hope is that "it's not just a day school, but it has a definite curriculum and a quality of care. I'm lucky I found it all in one place."