To help address the childcare needs of faculty and staff, Knox County Schools (KCS) turned to the United Way of Greater Knoxville (UWGK) and the YMCA of East Tennessee to pilot a “micro-center” providing on-site childcare for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Nearly 16,000 childcare centers closed permanently between December 2019 and March 2021 across the U.S., denying working family’s access to childcare. Tennessee families are no exception when it comes to feeling the impact of living in “childcare deserts.”

How Local Partners Came Together to Fill Local Childcare Gaps

The new childcare center opened on January 8, 2024, at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy. It is the first in Knox County, aiming to serve as a model for employers hoping to alleviate staffing challenges created by insufficient childcare options.

“We are excited to get this program off the ground and be part of the solution for the childcare crisis facing our community,” said Ellie Kittrell, Director of Education Systems for the UWGK. “This program is addressing the needs of local parents and creating more high-quality, affordable childcare options in Knox County.”

The innovative micro-center, staffed by trained YMCA personnel, utilizes a converted classroom to provide on-site childcare services for up to four infants and eight toddlers or preschoolers.

Dr. Beth Lackey, Director of Early Childhood for KCS, expressed her enthusiasm: “The micro-center supports working families and allows us to meet the needs of our KCS staff and community. Our goal is for the micro-center to serve as a shining example of the value of partnerships with agencies such as the YMCA and United Way while creating an innovative strategy to address childcare needs in our community.”

Opening the Doors to the Micro-center

Collaborators and stakeholders celebrated this initiative’s impact on local families at the grand opening.

Jim Dickson, CEO of YMCA of East Tennessee, shared his hopes that local employers will see the value of such an investment. “We have other businesses and partners that will hopefully come here, walk through, and see that this is what they need to do for their employees. Childcare is in a crisis state across the country right now.”

Dickson also encouraged members of the community to support the UWGK. “This could not have happened without the United Way of Greater Knoxville. When people give to United Way, they help fund initiatives like this. We love being partners with the United Way and making great things happen together, especially for people in need. That’s why we’re here, and that’s why the YMCA has always tried to fill in the gaps and needs in the community.”

On the UWGK’s role in addressing the childcare crisis, Kittrell said, “We are here to be a convener, to do the research and listen to what is happening in our community, across the state, and across the nation to inform our work on the ground, always guided by the communities we serve.”

Kittrell ended her remarks with an open invitation for further collaboration, pointing out the need for continued investment in these critical community programs. The UWGK currently subsidizes tuition at the micro-center to provide access to local families.

She emphasized, “And if you have a bold idea you want to think about or try to bring to the community, call us!”

The Knoxville Chamber of Commerce and UWGK is hosting an employer lunch and learn on Tuesday, February 13, at the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce. The “How Employers Can Help (and Keep) Working Parents” event will feature a discussion on various workforce solutions for employers, including micro-centers. Register today!

To learn more about how you can support us in our mission or start a micro-center in your company, please email Ellie Kittrell at