Phyllis Blackstone faces a crisis. She has consulted her friends, her coworkers and her relatives and even took a day off from work, but to no avail.
The crisis is one dreaded by most modern-day parents. The day care center that keeps Blackstone's 2 1/2-year-old daughter closes tomorrow.
"I've been to three places so far," said Blackstone, who took off a day from work to visit several centers. "Two places told me they were full. I really don't know what I'm going to do at this point. I'll just keep looking and hope that something comes up by next week."
Blackstone, a secretary with the National Park Service, is among 40 parents whose children attend the Learning Nest, an infant and child development center at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, 3000 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. The center will close its red double doors tomorrow.
With the growing number of families headed by single mothers and families in which both parents work, any interruption in day care services can cause a major disruption in a family's life.
Marjorie A. Rogers, 53, the founder and president of the Learning Nest Inc., said church officials told her that they will not renew the lease for the four spacious rooms where more than 140 children have played and learned since the center opened in February 1982.
Rogers said she is having difficulty finding a new location in the same area that meets the city's licensing requirements for day care centers.
The Rev. Harry Hearne, 38, pastor of the church, said the lease was not renewed because, "Over a period of three years the church has struggled with the issue of being in a landlord-tenant relationship.
"One of the problems with this when it first started was with some people thinking that we would have our own program that would be owned and run by the church," he added.
"It has little or nothing to do with day care or the service it was providing. It has more to do with with church policy . . . and some things that are not clearly black or white."
The Learning Nest was considered special by some parents because it was one of two centers in the Hillcrest area that would take infants as young as 3 months old, served nourishing hot meals and allowed parents to drop off their children as early as 6:30 a.m. and pick them up at the 6:30 p.m. closing time.
The center charged weekly rates of $55 for preschoolers and $60 for infants.
Nutrition, safety, education, cost and convenience were the main concerns voiced by parents as they prepared to leave a day care program they had come to trust.
"Will they [another day care center's staff] be as kind and helpful?" asked Blackstone, whose daughter Kya has "amblyopia," a condition commonly known as "lazy eye." It was Rogers who first alerted Blackstone that something might be wrong with Kya, Blackstone said.
"Mrs. Rogers even went so far as to go to someone at the Lighthouse for the Blind to find out what she could do to help her [Kya] in the classroom as far as programs were concerned," Blackstone added.
Rogers has been in the child care business for nine years. She sais she started the Learning Nest with her sister, Della Lowery, 60, who is the center's assistant director and meal planner, with her daughter, Dietra, 32, a recreation specialist, $2,000, and with a philosophy.
"If children develop a positive self-image and good discipline skills, then they'll be able to learn -- all things equal -- all there is to learn," said Rogers. "That's our basic philosophy."
"We strive very hard to make them feel good about themselves," she added. "We use positives instead of negatives in disciplining."
Jan Jackson-Johnson's two sons graduated from the Learning Nest, but now she is faced with finding new day care for her 2-year-old daughter, Asara, who, like a third of the children, has stayed at the center since she was 3 months old.
Jackson-Johnson, a supervisor at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said she will leave Asara with her mother, who usually works nights, until a new center is found.
Jon Robinson and his wife Camille work for Federal Express and have left their 21-month-old son Jon Jr. at the Learning Nest.
"It's hard to find someplace to leave your child for 10 hours a day," said Jon Robinson. "For one thing, not many places will take a child under 2 and that's not toilet-trained."
Robinson said his only option now is to leave Jon Jr. with a disabled aunt until Rogers opens again. "I never realized how important this program was until I saw it disappearing right before my eyes," he said.
Sandra Wallace, 31, who works for the city's Department of Human Services, has been luckier than most. Her 4-year-old son Jermel will begin attending St. Francis Xavier, a day care center at the Catholic Church a few blocks from the Learning Nest. It was recommended by Rogers and other parents she knew, Wallace said.
Rogers' center served the entire family. The program included monthly parent-teacher meetings, workshops for single parents and referrals for medical, psychological, financial and personal counseling.
"I think it was Maya Angelou who said it takes more than two parents to raise a kid -- it takes a whole village," said Sylvia Steed, 33, a recently divorced parent and mother of 4-year-old Dana. "This [the Learning Nest] is the village."