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Duo gets Olmsted County child-care award

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Graduate Gaolunha Vang, center, is all smiles at the University of Minnesota Rochester Commencement held Saturday at the Mayo Civic Center. "I feel amazing!" Vang said.

Lee Vang and Julie Lewison, both of Rochester, open their homes and hearts to care for children while their parents work.

"We are moms to all the kids we have. They learn a lot from us," said Lewison.

And now, Vang and Julie were named Olmsted County's Family Child Care Providers of the Year.

Their nominators both mentioned that they served as mothers of sorts to children while their parents are at work, making it fitting that the award was given near Mother's Day.

There are 416 licensed family childcare providers in the county, said Stacy Boysen, who coordinates the awards. They are given by Family Child Care, Inc., a member association of the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association.


Lewison and Vang were honored at the state association conference and banquet May 2 in Plymouth. In Olmsted County, they will be recognized at the Family Child Care, Inc. Provider Appreciation Banquet Monday.

"Lee has been a great educator, mentor, role-model, friend counselor, artist, supporter and most of all a mother to my children while we were at work," said Lindsay Haagensen's nomination letter for Vang.

Vang became a child-care provider about five years ago after her third child was born and she felt like she was missing out on her kids growing up.

She tries to feed healthy food to the children she cares for, and most of it is organically grown. Her family has a large enough garden to have a booth at the Rochester farmers market and they preserve produce for use throughout the year.

There are presently seven children aged seven months to five years old in her home during school hours.

"They're super-happy," said Vang. "I have fun with them all day."

On a recent day, a two-year-old boy busily pounded blocks into a tool bench. Another two-year-old and a five-year-old raced little grocery carts from one end of the play area to the other.

"No head-ons," cautioned Vang.


Even the two-year-olds said "thank you" and "you're welcome" as they handed each other toys.

Vang gently advised one boy to ask a three-year-old girl if he can play with her instead of taking her toy away.

Vang uses play-based teaching; she reads books to the children and points out colors and shapes of toys they select to play with.

When she's reading, some toddlers are listening and some are stacking blocks. "I believe they should explore their individuality," said Vang.

When Vang's older children come home from school, the toddlers immediately gravitate to them.

They copy their mannerisms and their language. "They're like little sponges," said Vang.

Julie Lewison became a child-care provider 23 years ago.

Her gentle, calm voice keeps the children in her care busy and happy with coordinated activities and play time.


This week for Mothers Day, her children pressed their painted feet against little clay pots to make butterflies for Mothers Day. They'll fill the pots with treats for mom.

Lewison reads at least three books to the children each day and helps them learn life skills, too.

They help her cook, bake and make beds, playing and learning all the while.

Lewison's twin 18-year-old daughters are graduating this year.

They've been part of the giggling group since they were born. They'll be missed and they'll miss the children when they go to college.

In the summer, Lewison takes the children to the fairgrounds to see the animals. She has a four-child stroller and the kids are taught the 'Duck Family Walk' when they walk outside. Lewison walks in front and the children walk single file behind her when they're meeting someone on the sidewalk so they don't take up too much room.

Lewison said she usually is taking care of eight children and right now, they range in age from two months to four years.


"It's wear and tear on my house, but I can't imagine doing anything else. I guess I'm in it for life," says Julie Lewison, of Rochester, who was recently named one of two childcare providers of the year in Olmsted County. She been doing childcare for 23 years. Also pictured, from left, are Tristan Vangness, Kenley Willson, Carly Holzer, Alijah Swanson, Addison Diesher and Kinley Spade.

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