By CRISTINA JANNEY
Jackie McGann has been a home child care provider for 28 years, bringing to bear a talent and passion for caring for children she said she always had.
McGann is being recognized as the October Child Care Champion of the Month sponsored by the Child Care Task Force of Ellis County.
Mary Rudman nominated McGann for the award.
She said in her nomination, "Jackie McGann creates a fun and safe environment for her day care kids. We appreciate the diverse activities she provides the kids and the wholesome food she feeds them.
"She is an experienced day care provider who strives to help kids of all ages she cares for grow and develop at their own speed and thrive. We really appreciate what she does for our daughter and family."
McGann, 59, was the youngest in an Ellis farm family of nine. By the time she was in the third grade, her older siblings had children of their own.
"It was my nature," she said. "It was already there for me.
"I was surrounded by a lot of children and family, and I just knew how to take care fo them."
She naturally fell into being a babysitter for her young nephews and nieces.
McGann has tried to create magical moments for the children in her care from walking a beam across the creek in her backyard, picking cherry tomatoes from her garden or a field trip to her brother's farm in Ellis.
She said those little eyes never missed a tomato. "They don't miss anything," she said.
She scanned through photos on her phone of past day care children collecting eggs and digging potatoes on her brother's farm and posing with her dog, Max.
McGann is an animal lover and she said she's seen how the love of an animal can help a children with their own emotions.
Their dog, Max, was very adverse to the high-pitch squeals of the youngest children in McGann's care. One day, one of the children was very upset and crying.
The dog came in close to her and nudged her hard and began kissing her. The child pushed back at first and then finally erupted into giggles.
"After that they were besties," McGann said. ... "Animals are amazing for us. They help us through the hard times."
McGann also had a Siamese cat named Buster Brown. Siamese cats are known to be standoffish with humans. McGann was caring for an autistic boy.
"It's like Buster knew how much the child with autism needed him," she said. "[Buster] would jump on his lap and that child would squeeze so hard it was as if [Buster's] eyes were about to pop out of his head. ... He just gave himself to the child, and he wouldn't do that for anybody else."
McGann has been willing to offer extra love when needed. She was carrying for a baby who cried every time her parents left the room. For two weeks, McGann held and sang to that baby and she eventually was soothed and improved.
There's no magic formula, McGann said, just years of practice and experience caring for children.
She watches the children to make sure they are making friends and developing correctly.
"You need to tune it to that and address it and give them what they're needing," she said. "It doesn't take long. Give them what they need — a little love, a little reassurance, and a little extra time, and those problems just go away."
As she has become older, her memories of the many children for whom she has cared are closer and dearer to her heart, McGann said. Many of the children still keep in touch with her.
She just recently attended the wedding of a girl she cared for years ago. That young woman is now having a baby of her own, and McGann is going to be her child care provider.
She also is now starting to be invited to high school graduations.
One graduate said, "Jackie, I love you. You're like my second mom, you know."
She recently received a letter from yet another child who is now a senior in high school.
"You've been an important person in my life and helped me become the person that I am today," the letter said. "You've helped me grow as a person and better myself. You've taught me how to watch over kids, which led me to the career I'm going to pursue in the future.
"You've taught me to be patient and kind with the people around me and pushed me to do what seemed like the impossible. ... Your house is a place that I will always remember — the place that encouraged me to be a better person and helped me grow as a person. ...
"Thank you for helping me become the person many are proud of and the person I am today."
McGann said her most challenging time was during the pandemic. She also had knee surgery in 2020.
"I tapped into God and prayed a lot," she said.
McGann has struggled with stomach issues most of her life, and because of that, just getting out of bed in the morning was sometimes a challenge.
In the almost three decades McGann has been a child care provider, the industry has become more professional, she said.
Inspections are more rigorous. More training is required, and regulations are more stringent.
"There are so many professionals out there with good training, and the homes are gone through thoroughly with thorough inspections," she said.