Jul. 27—Mohamed Ahmed said he listened to frustration from friends and family about a lack of affordable, multicultural day care services for years.
"It was one need I thought I could start to help families, so that they don't say, 'We're leaving here because of the lack of cultural day care,'" Ahmed said. "They just need someone who speaks their language who they can feel comfortable with, who they can call and ask, 'How's my child?'"
On Wednesday, that hope became a reality, as Winning Heart Child Care Center opened at 2140 Hoffman Road in Mankato. After a year of preparing the building and gaining the necessary staffing, the Somali-owned business is fully booked with a waiting list.
The staff at Winning Heart can now care for 54 children, ages 6 weeks to 12 years old. Business Manager Anis Abdullahi said the center will be open year-round, five days a week. They are hoping to eventually provide care on weekends.
"The families can't wait for this to start," Abdullahi said. "We've had people asking when we will open, and we've had to tell them to be patient."
Abdullahi said many Somali immigrants are uncomfortable leaving their children with strangers during the day, and having people they know and trust involved makes them feel more at ease.
While head teacher of the infant section Maryan Hersi's children are too old for her to enroll at Winning Heart, she is "relieved" for the parents of children she will work with.
"I was worried with them not eating the food they eat at home," Hersi said. "We don't eat pork, and that's one thing they sometimes serve at other day cares."
The children at Winning Heart will be provided Somali food from Brothers Restaurant and Grocery, which Ahmed also owns and is just a few hundred feet away.
Despite having business experience and help from those with experience running day care centers, opening was no easy task for Ahmed and Abdullahi.
"It's been wonderful and hectic at the same time," Abdullahi said. "We're new to this, so we've been welcoming challenges with open arms."
The zoning process took longer than expected, and because Winning Heart is in an old building, once home to two separate businesses, it had to undergo significant remodels to make become a viable day care center.
Teacher Sarah Ball, who will work with infants, said she has been "patiently waiting" for the opening of Winning Heart, excited to connect with those of diverse backgrounds in her work.
"I'm excited to get to know kids as they come in and the parents," Ball said. "I like learning about other cultures and what they believe or how they do things differently."
So far, 14 people have been hired to work as teachers, though Ahmed said they have struggled to find enough qualified candidates to fill the demand. He said the search will continue so as many people as possible can access the service.
Affordability is also a priority. Winning Heart accepts all financial assistance programs, and is one of the lowest priced day care providers in the area, Abdullahi said.
"People in the Somali community have been waiting for a diverse day care to open up," said Amran Mohamed, teacher at the day care center. "They're looking forward to it and are open to it, not just for minorities, just anyone who is looking for affordable day care."
Winning Heart is also looking to partner with MRCI to offer their child care services to immigrant families who need support in obtaining important services for their transition to living in the Mankato area.
"This will be very good for the community I work with specifically because they're looking for somebody ... who speaks their language," MRCI job coach Mohamed Abdulkadir said. "We're really happy to have something like this."