New daycare opens on Nucleus Avenue
Kids Corral owner Rachel Rader poses for a portrait holding five month old Penelope Hufgard in her new location on Nucleus Avenue Monday, Jan. 22. (Avery Howe photo)
Janessa Kowalski (center) pauses during snack time to pose for the camera at the Kids Corral on Nucleus Avenue Monday, Jan. 22. (Avery Howe photo)
Cedric Hanson, Remi Peterson and Rylee Frazin play with Kids Corral employee Paloma Rader (back) on Monday, Jan. 22. (Avery Howe photo)
Anna Sorenson and Crew Butcher sort colored toys at the Kids Corral on Monday, Jan. 22. (Avery Howe photo)
Photographer | January 31, 2024 2:00 AM
Rachel Rader settled on an ankle-high plastic chair with a tiny baby, all dressed up in pink, happily held to her chest. With all the bright colors and noise of playing youngsters bouncing off the walls around her, she seemed perfectly at ease.
Rader started a little childcare group facility, Kids Corral, off of Highway 206 about a year and a half ago. She loves kids, and has been a foster, adoptive and biological mother. When Nature Kids Childcare closed in Columbia Falls June of 2023, it quickly became clear how badly childcare is needed in the area.
“It affected a lot of families here in the valley,” Rader said. “Before [Nature Kids Childcare] closed, I had 15 kids on my waitlist, the week she closed I ended up with 48 kids on my waitlist.”
Rader set out to become a full-blown daycare, starting by working with the state to become a center director. Taking into account her seven years as a foster parent and a year’s experience running her childcare facility, she was granted a waiver to become a center director. However, her location didn’t really have the room to expand.
“I wanted to look at purchasing a facility, because after a year being in business, my rent did go up, so my costs were going up but I was still charging my families the same amount,” Rader explained.
When the Klothes Kloset at 286 Nucleus Avenue went out of business and the building came on the market, it seemed like a perfect fit for Kids Corral. Two thousand five hundred square feet of the building could house kids as soon as they opened, and down the line 7,000 total square feet would be available.
Purchasing the building would prove to be a community effort. Glacier Bank was able to fund part of the loan, but couldn’t finance 100%. Todd Hachmann, the bank’s commercial lender, saw the need for this business in the community and sought assistance from Montana West Economic Development to make it happen.
Montana West works to create and retain jobs in the state, and manages a revolving loan program for the City of Columbia Falls supported by community development grant funds.
“It’s kind of right in our wheelhouse,” Montana West loan officer Mark L. Johnson said. “It allows Rachel to increase her employment base, it provides childcare to those who want to work and can get back out into a work environment, so it helps us alleviate some of the underemployment issues here.”
With the financing help, Rader was able to officially purchase the building in December, and Jan. 2 she was open for business. As owner and director, she is already looking to expand her services.
Kids Corral Childcare and Preschool opens at 6:30 a.m. for drop-offs, with 5:30 p.m. pick-ups that can be requested as late as 6 p.m. Alongside house-made family style meals and snacks, dance and music sessions, STEM lessons taught by Rader’s daughter Ashley Rader – a senior at Columbia Falls High School, and playtime, they also teach preschool full-time with the help of Mylee Murphy.
“I took what we didn’t have in the valley, and I put that in here,” Rachel Rader said.
She has plans to reinvest whatever profits the daycare makes right back into the business. Part of the building is unfinished, and she hopes to knock out the second floor and get it ready to be an additional space, either to expand the current setup or serve as a space for older children. Outside, a quonset hut once used to park cars will be insulated and sheetrocked to become an indoor playground that can be closed in the winter or open in the warmer months. In the spring, the outside of the main building will get a fresh paint job. All of this and more will hopefully be completed within two to three years with help of Rader’s husband and handyman Jeffery Rader.
It is truly a family business, with daughter Paloma Rader working there full-time and the whole family coming in to deep clean the place every Sunday after church. Employee Brianna Padgett has worked with the family since she was in high school.
“It’s always been a community building, and it’s nice to see it used as a community building again,” Johnson said. “Even if it’s privately owned, it’s a community space.”
Rader’s goal right now is to build up enough staff that she can care for 40 kids, and is immediately looking for full-time and part-time help. She has room for two crawlers and one two-year-old at the moment, but hopes to be able to fill more requests for preschool with additional help.
“My ultimate goal is to make this a completely unique center in the fact that we will be able to do before and after school care, and that we will be able to run a summer program here for older school-aged kids,” she said.
Rader invited the community to check out the facility at the end of Nucleus, and said to expect more changes inside and out.