Each week in partnership with the Merced County Office of Education we highlight North Valley leaders and programs specializing in early childhood education.

The Resource and Referral program is helping connect families to early childcare programs and providing support and training for special childcare providers around the county.

LEGOS, laughs, and learning are always on the agenda for little ones when they’re with Alheli Olivares and Sharon Salinas. They run independent childcare programs and preschools out of their homes.

“Experiences that allow the children to explore and discover opportunity for them to develop and reach the highest potential. Giving them the opportunity for nurturing their minds, their heart, and just having an interaction and a relationship with them that’s quality,” said Olivares.

“It gives our parents the opportunity to go to work and to work with great ease. They know their children are safe and are working with qualified providers,” said Salinas.

Their environments are partially made possible by the Resource and Referral Program.

“They’re very very essential to childcare these days. They subsidize payment for children that need subsidy, they provide classes and workshops, they come in and help us set up. My whole environment is set up by my coach. We work together as a team to make this whole childcare into a mini preschool,” said Salinas.

Salinas and Olivares said a strong early childhood learning infrastructure is needed now more than ever.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years and every year I notice more and more the need for childcare. Our families are working long hours. They need somebody to watch the kids and educate the kids when they are working,” said Olivares.

They said little hands create our future.

“You know they will continue as an adult with those abilities with that knowledge that they’re getting right now,” Olivares.

“Children are our blessings from God. They’re our future. They’re our sunshine. Their little lives — they set out to please everyday. These are our future. We are growing our future,” said Salinas.