New Middlebury Daycare under construction

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MIDDLEBURY – Aided by $560,000 in donated start-up funds, the Middlebury Congregational Church (MiddUCC) has agreed to establish and host a non-profit independent day care center providing slots for 24 children aged six weeks to three years .

MiddUCC is working to open the new center before the end of the year, but organizers stressed they still have a lot of work to do, including physical improvements to the targeted childcare space at the within the church. Parents-to-be and current parents should therefore not try to book a slot right now; there’s not even a waiting list at this point.

MiddUCC parishioners approved the new childcare initiative on June 19, a deadline that local nonprofit group Table 21 had set as a condition to contribute $200,000 to the effort. The church had previously been promised an incredible $360,000 donation from a longtime anonymous supporter. Organizers said they weren’t free to disclose whether the center’s benefactor is the same donor who seeded Table 21 to the tune of $300,000 in 2020. MiddUCC established Table 21 at the start of the pandemic. COVID-19 to help get cash assistance. cash-strapped farmers and restaurants.

With seed funds now in hand and the go-ahead from church stakeholders, organizers of the childcare initiative are laying the groundwork for a service that began to gain momentum in March. It was then that the church board agreed to form a committee to explore the possibility of opening a daycare center in the church building. The resulting “Child Care Exploratory Task Force,” chaired by Ellen Whelan-Wuest and including the Reverend Elizabeth Gleich, met weekly for several months before drafting a formal outline of what might look like the babysitting service.

“We find ourselves in an incredibly unique position,” Whelan-Wuest said. “The opportunity we have here is not available to so many other individuals and organizations who would like to do so. It therefore seemed very important to us to take this opportunity to use the resources we could muster to bring this program to life. the disposal of the community, because we can.

Task force members had no problem confirming the huge need for more child care in Addison County and beyond. They noted statistics from organizations like Let’s Grow Kids, a statewide children’s advocacy group, indicating that:

  • 8,752 Vermont children ages 0-5 do not have access to the high-quality, regulated child care spaces they need.
  • Of these, 5,000 places are needed for the youngest.
  • In Addison County, 452 additional child care spaces are needed to meet the needs of working parents with children ages 3 and under.

MiddUCC officials decided to focus on services for this particularly underserved demographic from six weeks to three years old.

Those leading the church’s childcare effort have noted factors contributing to the industry’s current malaise, including low pay for educators and the financial barriers low-income households face in accessing the system. . Additionally, group care up to age three will limit the number of children the new center will be able to accommodate, per Vermont child care licensing regulations.

The new center will seek to counter these trends with a start-up bonus, no rent to pay and an ongoing commitment to fundraising as a way to fill potential budget gaps. This in turn will allow MiddUCC to fulfill its altruistic aspirations for the centre, which will have no religious agenda and will be governed by its own independent board of directors.

Organizers hope the daycare will become self-sustaining and start its own fundraising campaigns within five years.

Gleich and Whelan-Wuest acknowledged that most other child care centers do not have the same generous head start as the MiddUCC effort, and they promised that the new center will not compete unfairly with other providers. .

“We’re not trying to offer very high salaries that would be more competitive on the labor side,” Whelan-Wuest said. “But it was really important that we provide benefits, (and) try to match what we understand to be comparable, but fair salaries (at other centers). We also try to apply comparable rates.

“It’s really important to us that our county’s child care ecosystem be stronger,” she added.

STAFF & SPACE

The plans call for several of the 24 childcare slots to be reserved for families eligible for state subsidies, according to Whelan-Wuest. The center will have six staff, including four educators, an aide and an educator/program director.

Fortunately, MiddUCC is serviced by a modern and spacious addition accessible from Seymour and North Pleasant streets. Officials are assessing what it will take to convert three existing classrooms into child care space on the lower level of the addition. A classroom will be reserved for children from six weeks to one year old; another will be for children aged one and two; and another for two and three year olds.

Children will also be able to use the common room of the church for group activities.

Construction estimates related to the new center have not yet been received, Whelan-Wuest noted, but the list of improvements includes the addition of sinks and carbon monoxide detectors in classrooms, a washing machine and a clothes dryer, as well as play and learning materials. Plans also call for the construction of an outdoor playground on the Seymour Street side of the building.

“The list isn’t long, but it doesn’t come cheap,” Whelan-Wuest said.

“If this was an industry that was easy to start and manage, we would have a lot more daycares,” Gleich added. “There have been times in our Monday meetings over the last three or four months where we’ve said, ‘Oh my God, this is an incredibly complicated business…’ But the regulations are there for a reason.”

Church leaders are confident that the new center will be able to co-exist with existing MiddUCC programs in the building, including weekly community suppers, youth groups, various meetings, adult studies, an annual holiday bazaar and Moreover.

“It’s not an empty building; it’s being actively used,” Whelan-Wuest said.

The organizers have drawn up an ambitious to-do list for the coming months which includes:

  • Continue to follow and adhere to state licensing guidelines.
  • Hire a program director to begin developing a curriculum, apply for state credentialing ratings, and create and implement a teacher hiring plan.
  • Create a governance structure to include a board of directors and establish strong, early coordination between the center and the church.
  • Work with the Middlebury Development Review Board to obtain the necessary permission to operate a day care center in the church building.
  • Submit grant applications for seed funding and additional financial support.
  • Begin the renovation process and establish a timetable for the opening of the center.

It’s an ambitious list, but MiddUCC parishioners have grown accustomed to setting — and achieving — big goals for their church and community. In 2005, the congregation founded the Charter House Coalition, a volunteer-based non-profit organization dedicated to providing basic food and housing in the Middlebury area. This led to the establishment of the Charter House Emergency Shelter at 27 North Pleasant St., as well as the preparation and distribution of thousands of free meals each year to those in need.

“Our congregation is truly thrilled to be able to meet a real need, as we have done with Charter House and as we do with community suppers,” Gleich said. “And now, from Monday to Friday, we can meet the needs of 24 children. Unfortunately, this only makes a small dent in the (overall) need, but it will make a difference for 24 families.

More information about the children’s center’s new case can be found at tinyurl.com/d63aeb64.

John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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