Children First


Children First has moved to a new and improved website!!!

You can find them here:

The History of Children First

• The idea for the Spearfish United Methodist Church to open its own preschool and childcare center came
about in late 2007, as the church was in the process of deciding what was to come of the old Central
School building. A small group of church members presented the idea and it was decided that the church
would move forward with opening Children First and see how it went, as long as Children First remained
completely financially independent. From February through May 2008, Laura Lloyd-Smith was volunteer
director. She wrote grants, obtained a childcare license from the state of SD, helped prepare classrooms,
purchase supplies and furniture, and organize the CF staff with the assistance of the Staff Parish Relations
Committee and Pastor Dar Berkenpas.

• Through the spring and summer months, several church members and some CF staff members worked
hard to get 5 classrooms cleaned, painted, and prepared for children. In June of 2008 Children First
opened its doors as a ministry of the Spearfish United Methodist Church, fully licensed with the State of
South Dakota to care for children ages 4 months to 8 years. The childcare program started that summer
with an enrollment of 26 children and 5 staff members. It became immediately apparent that the need
for quality childcare and preschool in Spearfish was huge and throughout the summer we continually
added children and staff members.

• By the time the preschool and kindergarten programs started in September of 2008 the total enrollment
was 73 children and the staff had grown to 12 very competent and dedicated individuals. There were also
several church members who volunteered in various areas at CF. In September of 2010 the total
enrollment at CF was 98 children and the staff had grown to 16 people. By October of 2013 the
enrollment at CF had grown to 110 children with 20 employees. Children First had reached capacity for
enrollment with the space we had with 78 children and 20 employees by 2016. We no longer offer
kindergarten, but still have preschool and childcare.

• In February of 2023 we started working on updating room 2 at UMCOC to make it suitable as a classroom
for 1 year old children (waddlers). Sarah Hazledine sought out donations to pay for new flooring in the
room. Clarence Moshier updated all electrical outlets to be compliant with state regulations, Steve and
Vicki Donnelly (Children First employees) cleaned and painted the room and Steve installed a new
countertop and sink to get the room ready for the children to start on June 1st, 2023.

• In the early years of Children First, Pastor Dar Berkenpas was very involved in getting CF up and running.
She sat in on many interviews, spent time at the school, met with Melissa and Sarah on a regular basis
and participated in making decisions. The staff parish committee was also very instrumental in getting CF
started. One or two members of the committee usually sat in on interviews, they conducted yearly
employee evaluations, a member was present whenever we had to terminate someone’s employment
and were part of all policy making regarding employment issues. Since committee members change
yearly, each year was a little different depending on who was the chair of the committee. As CF got more
settled in and our employee needs stabilized, the staff parish committee stepped back and became less

• Children First is mainly governed by a board of directors. The initial boards were made up of members
representing each of the committees at the church. As years went by, it became more difficult to get
people who were willing to commit to doing this. Now we have representation from some of the
committees but not all of them. This board assists with policy making, approves the annual budget and
any large or special purchases, such as spending grant funds, approves yearly calendar, we consult with
them regarding child or parent issues or concerns, they help with creating short- and long-term goals,
assist with fundraising, and are very supportive of the staff and the program that together we have
created. The board participates in decision making at CF, they also work to empower the administration
to take care of the day-to-day business.

• The goal of CF remains the same that it was on the opening day: to provide a secure and loving
environment for all children, promote total learning through all the senses and support the individual
development of every child.

Children First Task Force
Definitions, Connections, Responsibilities

1. Children First (CF)—preschool and childcare owned by Spearfish UMC since 2008. Current staff
of 27; current enrollment 86 children.

2. Spearfish United Methodist Church (SUMC)—local UMC that owns and operates Children First.
Coop Preschool rents space from the church and operates independently.

3. Spearfish UMC campus—a city block containing church, old Central School, parking lot and
playground areas.

4. United Methodist Community Outreach Center (UMCOC)—old Central School facing Jackson
Blvd, which was acquired when the church bought a parking lot ‘and God gave us a building.” It
was dedicated to child care and community service. The word OUTREACH has led persons
needing food or housing to demand services. In 2023, Trustees and Council agreed that all
signage and lettering will be removed from the building early in 2024.

5. Trustees—primary committee of SUMC (by Book of Discipline) responsible for all property—
church, parsonage, UMCOC, parking lot, van. Trustees determine room rent or reimbursement
for Children First and Coop Preschool.

6. Stewardship and Finance (S & F)—primary committee (by Discipline) to raise funds, set budget
for general fund and UMCOC, manage all church monies. Trustees may express an unbudgeted
need, then ask the finance committee to fund it, such as parsonage flood repair in 2023.

7. Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC)—primary committee (by Discipline) for all staff
employed by the church, including Children First staff.

8. Council—decision-making group to approve budget and specific expenses as may be
unbudgeted, plus other issues.

9. Charge Conference—annual fall meeting of SUMC led by District Superintendent Dan Bader.

10. Children First Board—operates similar to the school board of the public school—setting policies,
wages, tuition, budget and calendar.

11. Children First Task Force—group of five selected by Council to explore the relationship of
Children First with SUMC. Purpose statement: align CF operation with UMC governance.

12. Children First finances—no money is used from the general fund to operate Children First.