Mattie Johnson serves as the executive director for the Bethlehem Center of Jackson. The center is a national mission institution related to the United Methodist Church. The center, a non-profit agency, serves low-income families and individuals. Johnson, a native of Raymond, Mississippi, graduated from Belhaven with a BS in social services. She has also obtained a Child Development Associate. She has served as executive director at the center for eight years.
What sources does the center offer?
“We are a daycare center. We serve children from infants through 12 years old. We have a preschool, and our service goes year round. We do not shut down during the summer. We don’t close. We have a summer camp that school-age children attend. We have them here all day. Our regular kids are here all day. We have a two, three and four-year-old classroom, where they are taught to be school ready. That’s our main focus to get our kids ready for school, because we don’t want our children that leave us to get to kindergarten and can’t keep up. So, we make sure they have all the basics they need before they enter kindergarten. We provide them with that before they leave us. So, we have some advanced students when they go to school.”
How large is the staff and how many children do you keep?
“Well, right now, we have the capacity for 105 children. Enrolled now, we have about 44 children. If I increased the number of children, that means I have to increase my employees. We have to follow the guidelines of the state Department of Health, which tells us the adult to child ratio.”
What does your day-to-day look like at the Bethlehem Center?
“I am typically in this office keeping the paperwork going, making sure the bills are paid, making sure that my kids have their immunization records up to date. I also work with the teachers to make sure they have everything they need. I have to provide them with what they need so that they can do what they do. If I have a teacher that needs to be out and I can’t get a sub, then I have to get back there in the classroom. I work 24/7 and I wear many different hats here. If something needs to be cleaned and the janitor isn’t around, I have to pick up a mop and do it. We all have to pitch in. Not only do we do the childcare, we serve two meals and a snack daily. Other than that, I’m around making sure everything is running smoothly. That’s my main goal.”
How does this center help the community?
“We do a lot with the community. We have a sorority that comes in the Sunday before Thanksgiving and they do a Thanksgiving dinner. We go around and pass out fliers to the community and they can come here and get a free meal. During tax season, I provide a free tax service on Saturdays from January to April. We get our food donation from the Harvest Food Donation, which is Pizza Hut and Whole Foods. I can’t serve that to the children, so when we get it, we hand it out. You’ll see a long line on Tuesday and Friday. For some, that’s the only meal they may get that day. So, we hand it out to the community. That’s every Tuesday and Friday.”
How does the center benefit from donations?
“If a parent falls short and can’t pay for childcare, that’s where the donations help, so we can keep operating. Because we have money that comes in from various people to help keep us going. We are under the United Methodist Church, so we get a lot of our support through the United Methodist Churches. But we are trying to reach out to others as well. If we had some people to send us donations every so often, that would help us out a lot. Sometimes you fall short. During the summer, we like to take children on field trips. We try to do one or two a week during the summer and give them a chance to get out of the center. With donations from people, that would help us because we operate our van. We have to have resources to take care of that.”
What are some projects the center could take on if more donations came in?
“Our playground needs to be resurfaced. Bad. When I say resurface, we’re talking about $5,000 worth of work to put more surface on the playground, because the Department of Health says we have to have so many inches of mulch on the playground. We just can’t afford an extra $5,000 to resurface the playground, so we try to do what we can with that. Things like that, if people sent donations to us, that would help us out with some big projects that we need to get done.”
How did you get involved at the center?
“The previous director before me had a position come available, so I decided to come in and get my feet in the door. Once you get here and you work with those children, they just grow on you. They just grow on you. I’ve been here eight years, and I just love every day of it.”
What would you say is the best part of the job?
“The children. You know, when my children leave here, and they are smiling and are happy, then I know we’ve had a good day and they’ve had a good day. When they see you and they want a hug, then you know they like you. And that makes all the difference.”
What are some other ways the center could use help?
“Supplies. Cleaning supplies. One of the churches came in to visit with the children, and they brought tissue and things. Tissues, paper towels. The children use a lot of that. You would be amazed how much that helps, because we have to buy all that. Bottled water, just whatever you would use at home that you would use here for cleaning. That’s the kind of stuff we use often.”
What about volunteers?
“We need volunteers all the time. During the school year, students come in and help the school age children with their homework. So, when parents pick their kids up, they don’t have to worry about that. They know that once their kids leave Bethlehem Center, the homework is taken care of. We have ladies who come in and read to the kids. Just interact with the children here, that would help a lot. We do birthday parties once a month, the last Friday of each month. We ask people to sponsor those birthday parties, just come in and do a party for the children. Like this month, we have six or seven birthdays. So, someone will come in Friday and do a party. It’s not a whole lot, but it’s just to show the kids that somebody cares and this is your birthday party. Because some of the kids may not get something for their birthday.”