Tucson Police Officer Erik Hite was all about serving others and his widow is carrying on that tradition by filling a child-care need for the families of first responders.

The Erik Hite Childcare Center is supported by the nonprofit Erik Hite Foundation, which Nohemy Hite established in 2011, three years after Erik was slain in the line of duty.

“Erik was all about, ‘How can we help other people?’ He spent 21 years in the Air Force serving our country before serving through law enforcement and he was very involved in our church,” Nohemy said. “He would be very happy and very involved if we had been doing this together and he would be so pleased to know how many families we have helped for the last four years in the community.”

She drew from her own experience when developing the concept for the child care center, which provides flexible scheduling and extended hours (5:30 a.m. to midnight, Mondays through Saturdays) to meet the needs of law enforcement and emergency services personnel and military families.

It serves up to 45 children on a daily basis and clients include families of commissioned and non-commissioned personnel from the Tucson Police Department, Pima County Sheriff’s Department, Arizona Department of Public Safety, U.S. Border Patrol, local fire departments, and active duty military.

The center is a secured facility at an undisclosed location to best protect the children, who range in age from 6 weeks to 12 years. It offers after-school programs as well as full-time, part-time and drop-in services. No registration fee is required for the low-cost services.

“Child care is very expensive for any family and for these specific families it is very hard. With the schedules they have — often working nights, late afternoon shifts and weekends — they get to spend very little time with their families and this line of duty doesn’t make you rich,” Nohemy said.

She said that flexibility and affordability make the center a great option, particularly for single parents, those who have spouses or partners who are also first responders or other professionals and those who don’t have family to assist them.

“We keep it affordable and have families pay just for the services they receive. If they just need care for a couple of hours, that is all they pay for. That is why we are a nonprofit and we need the community to get involved: Donations from individuals and businesses can supplement and complement the fees that parents pay in order to cover operation costs,” she said.

Nohemy emphasized that public awareness is an increasingly important aspect of the nonprofit’s mission since expenses are significant: operating costs for the day care run between $30,000 and $40,000 each month.

Volunteer Gabrielle Rhind agrees that publicity is essential, especially because Nohemy hopes to expand with a second child-care center to serve families in Northwest Tucson.

“With just a little notice, these first responders can call and drop off a child. These are men and women out there protecting the rest of us and this gives them peace of mind so they can go to work and take care of whatever they need to,” said Rhind, who is coordinating the upcoming Touch-A-Truck Family Festival and 1½-mile Truck Trot Fun Run to benefit the Erik Hite Foundation.

Rhind said the intent of the fundraiser is to attract walkers and runners as well as families.

In addition to the fun run, the festival will offer viewing of about 25 cars, trucks, motorcycles, vintage automobiles and emergency vehicles, including a Tucson police helicopter. Other activities will include craft vendors, a barbecue, raffles, live music and free fingerprinting.

“Whether it is 2-year-old who loves big firetrucks or an adult who likes vintage vehicles or crafts, anyone can come and be part of it in a variety of ways: It really is just a big festival and for a $5 admission fee, it is affordable for everyone,” said Rhind, whose late husband, Kent Rhind, was a 25-year veteran of TPD who worked with Erik.

Kent Rhind had been active in assisting with Erik Hite Foundation fundraisers and when he passed away 18 months ago, Gabrielle decided to become involved with the foundation as well. Gabrielle said she is in awe of the example Nohemy has provided for turning a devastating loss into a beautiful legacy for her late husband.

“I am learning a lot from Nohemy. In the face of tragedy and sadness, you have to rise above it and when you do things for other people, it does remarkable things for your outlook and for living as you go forward,” she said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net