PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Whether it's because of the cost of daycare, long waitlists or even shutdowns due to COVID-19, it hasn't been easy to find child care during the pandemic.
However, there is hope through a program in Washington County at the Rutledge Institute, which is located on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania.
Cherie Sears, director of the Rutledge Institute, said the preschool is unique because it not only offers child care and an innovative curriculum for the kids who attend, but it's also free for families who qualify.
"It's such an incredible opportunity and people don't know about it," said Sears.
An incredible opportunity, Sears says, that is life-changing for families.
"Families do need to qualify financially, but it's a very generous financial upper limit," said Sears.
Sears said the Rutledge Institute accepts up to 40 kids between the ages of 3 and 5. The program is accepting 20 kids on the preschool side and 20 on the pre-K side.
Families who apply for a scholarship must show proof that they make up to $100,000 in household income. She said it's a generous cutoff for families who might otherwise struggle to be accepted into a government-funded program and can't afford to send their kids to a pricey daycare.
"If you don't qualify for that, child care that's $13,000 a year suddenly is really chipping away into a family budget," said Sears.
Jose Ajquejay said daycare is too expensive for his family. He's grateful that his family qualified for the program, and now his 4-year-old son has been going to Rutledge since last October.
"I'm a happy dad because my son is learning a lot," said Ajquejay.
The Rutledge Institute is still accepting kids in both preschool and pre-K. The facility is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the director said officials are thinking of expanding the program in the future.
The Rutledge Institute opened in 2018 and was made possible through Tom and Karen Rutledge, Pittsburgh-area natives who have Cal U ties. Karen Rutledge told KDKA's Amy Wadas that they've done well for themselves so they wanted to give back and invested $4.3 million into the program for the first five years.
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