Friday, Jun 28, 2024

Ballad Health Opens Center for Early Learning in Norton, Its Second Childcare Center in Southwest Virginia

Norton, VA Center for Early Learning group photo

NORTON, Va.— Norton, Virginia, is now home to Ballad Health’s newest Center for Early Learning, as the health system continues to increase access to quality childcare across the Appalachian Highlands.

Formally opening its doors in July, the new center is located close to Norton Community Hospital at 1424 Park Ave. NW, with capacity to serve up to 130 children including infants from 6 weeks to children 5 years old. As with Ballad Health’s other Centers for Early Learning, children enrolled in the Norton center will benefit from a curriculum that is designed to promote holistic development through play-based learning, ensuring every child served by the center enters school kindergarten-ready.

The Center for Early Learning in Norton is the second childcare center in Southwest Virginia opened and operated by Ballad Health, following the Center for Early Learning in Lebanon. The Centers for Early Learning were announced in 2022, when Ballad Health’s Board of Directors voted to invest up to $37 million in childcare facilities across the Appalachian Highlands, opening up to 11 new centers that will serve up to 2,000 children and their families. With the opening in Norton, there will be seven Centers for Early Learning operating, with one in Greeneville; two locations in Johnson City; one in Elizabethton; one in Bristol, Tennessee; and one in Lebanon, Virginia.

“It’s an honor to be offering quality, affordable childcare to our hardworking community members in Southwest Virginia,” said Shannon Showalter, CEO for Ballad Health operations in Wise, Lee and Dickenson counties. “There is a national crisis in childcare access and availability, which is even worse here due to the rural nature of the Appalachian Highlands. While providing high-quality childcare in a region like ours has its own set of challenges, doing so is even more important to supporting families and the local economy. By opening this facility, we’re proud to stand alongside our community to provide an essential service to working families, easing a significant burden for them.”

Each center serves Ballad Health team members as well as community members, and each accepts children who qualify for state childcare financial assistance in Tennessee and Virginia. Enrolled children engage in play-based, developmentally appropriate activities that support early literacy, early numeracy and social skills that serve as a foundation for their future education, including kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading and, eventually, graduating high school college- or career-ready.

“As a representative of this community, it’s imperative I reflect the needs of our local residents, which is why supporting initiatives that will increase access to childcare is so important to me,” said Commonwealth Del. Terry Kilgore, who represents Virginia’s first legislative district, which includes the City of Norton. “Opening this center will serve as a major step forward for our families, and it will help so many people in this community thrive and be successful. That’s why I’m proud to support any efforts that bring childcare to more families in our rural, hardworking communities.”

“Access to quality childcare is essential for the growth and prosperity of rural communities like ours in Southwest Virginia,” said Commonwealth Sen. Todd Pillion, who represents the 6th district, which includes Wise County. “I have long advocated for initiatives that improve childcare accessibility, because it’s one of the biggest challenges families face. This new childcare center represents a major milestone in our efforts to ensure every child has a safe and nurturing environment for their early years. I applaud this investment in our community’s future and look forward to seeing the positive outcomes our local families will experience for years to come.”

“We couldn’t ask for stronger advocates than Sen. Pillion and Del. Kilgore,” Showalter said. “Opening a childcare center takes a lot of time, energy and logistics, and our lawmakers were with us every step of the way to ensure we could begin providing these essential services to our team members and community this summer.”

In listening and feedback sessions with team members, Ballad Health identified more than 1,000 team members without access to needed childcare across its service area, and an internal survey showed Ballad Health team members prioritized dependable childcare as a critical factor when choosing a place to live and work.

Like all Ballad Health Centers for Early Learning, the new Norton center operates under the Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network, which was created to advance children's health in the community. The children’s network extends through clinical initiatives at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, as well as community-based programs like Strong Starts, which connects parents with resources to support children from birth through kindergarten.

"The Ballad Health Centers for Early Learning are so much more than a place for parents to drop off their children,” said Holly Rinehart, chief nursing officer for the Niswonger Children’s Network. “It’s a place for them to learn and grow, with the building blocks they need for their school years and to build successes that will help them become successful adults.”

All Ballad Health Centers for Early Learning provide childcare 260 days per year, Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Registration is $50, and applications are now being accepted from team members and community members.

All Ballad Center for Early Learning locations are accepting applications for enrollment. In addition to the new center in Norton, the Center for Early Learning in Abingdon is targeted to open in fall 2024, and names are also being accepted for future sites in Kingsport, Tennessee, and Marion, Virginia, as well as an expanded center in Johnson City. Enrollments are still being accepted at the recently opened locations in Greeneville, Tennessee, and Lebanon, Virginia.

Learn more about Ballad Health’s Centers for Early Learning, including waitlists and registration for all new and upcoming locations.