Parents of about 50 children are scrambling to find alternate childcare, as the Little Walkers Daycare will be evicted on Feb. 1.
Located on the property of Christ Church United Methodist’s Pompano Beach campus, the owner of the daycare has been in a legal dispute with the church since October over its lease. Now, parents of children six weeks to five years old are leaning on family or hoping for other daycares in the area to have openings.
“We had no idea that they were going to evict us off of the campus forcing us to only have approximately three weeks to transition to a new location,” said Schmeka Lyons-Anderson, the executive director of Little Walkers. “We’ve been on that campus for 48 years.”
Lyons-Anderson is also the pastor of Destiny Fulfilled Outreach Ministries Inc, which runs the daycare.
Not only does the eviction displace the families, but also 10 employees.
According to court records, Christ Church Methodist Church filed a lawsuit against Destiny Fulfilled Outreach Ministries, of which Lyons-Anderson serves as a pastor.
The lawsuit shows a month-to-month lease from April to July 2020, then claims that the daycare continued to stay on the property without paying holdover rent. The lawsuit also claims that the church offered to extend the lease through the end of 2020, but the daycare declined, citing that there was a moratorium on evictions in Broward County.
In January, the judge ruled in favor of Christ Church Method Church. The daycare has to be moved out by Feb. 1.
“This one-count eviction action is simple. Pursuant to a lease agreement between the Parties, Defendant’s legal tenancy of the Church’s property ended July 31, 2020; and Defendant refuses to quit the property,” according to the motion filed in December.
However, Lyons-Anderson told The New Pelican that that is not the whole story – she said that the daycare had a five-year lease signed.
When the pandemic hit, the month-to-month lease was signed as an addendum since the daycare had to temporarily close. Once that lease expired, they would resume the original five-year lease. It was for that reason they declined to extend to the end of the year.
Lyons-Anderson said she was told by members of the church council that they are selling the property, which also houses the homeless ministry and food pantry.
A call to the bishop was not returned, and the attorney representing the church declined to comment. Cassandra Georges, who has three children at Little Walkers, said she also reached out to the bishop and got no response.
“I am so bothered that they’re even connected to the body of Christ,” she said. “And I’m very disappointed. I’ve reached out to the bishop, he has not reached out to me.”
Georges said she has sent all of her children to Little Walkers because of the attention they paid to each child – she said staff knows everyone’s names, allergies, birthdays and their likes and dislikes.
With her children at home, she worries about her four-year-old and how she will cope with the change as she prepares for kindergarten. Working from home due to the pandemic, her children’s godmother is stepping up to help watch them.
“You find out at 6 p.m. that you have to find somewhere for your kids to go within two weeks’ time,” she said. “We’re in the midst of a pandemic, so a lot of preschools aren’t just opening their doors to new kids. It’s not easy to find another school and on top of that . . . I would have to find somebody I trust all over again.”
Laurel Kalinoski has a three-year-old at Little Walkers and was most impressed with the low turnover of the staff. When a neighbor recommended the daycare, which her college-age child attended, Kalinoski was shocked to see that the same teacher was still there.
After calling daycares, her daughter is tentatively enrolled in a new one.
“It’s kind of a Catch 22, because they are hoping they could win the lawsuit, but the judge favored the church,” she explained. “We’re kind of in the dark and the thing is that this is an awkward time to put your child in a [new] daycare.”
Lyons-Anderson said she has looked at two other properties where they could relocate Little Walkers, but they would need time to build playground facilities, new bathrooms, flooring and other upgrades. A GoFundMe has been created, with $4,200 raised so far.
“It is a tremendous effect on the families that we serve, working parents who rely on our center to be open every day so they can go and work and provide for their families knowing their children are in a safe, loving and nurturing environment,” Lyons-Anderson said.