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by Anne Berleant
In an effort to provide childcare for working parents, Chuck and Belinda Lawrence have donated $50,000 toward the start-up costs of a day care center, which will be operated by Down East YMCA.
The center will open on January 2 and be housed in a garage attached to the Blue Hill YMCA Fitness Center behind TradeWinds Market Place, which will be renovated and equipped as a childcare center. The fitness center will continue its normal operations.
The center will provide for up to 35 children, said Peter Farragher, Down East YMCA’s executive director, in a recent telephone interview.
A fenced-in playground will be built behind the existing structure.
“With the trees as a backdrop, you’re never going to know there’s a childcare center there,” Farragher said.
“We’ve looked at this for years,” said Belinda Lawrence. “It’s something we’ve been hearing from both employees and the public that more childcare is needed.”
The program will be similar to one offered at the Down East Family YMCA in Ellsworth, with a creative curriculum and a quarterly assessment of children to identify any specific needs.
Crystal Moretto, Down East YMCA’s early preschool coordinator, will be the director of child care services and Brittany Hale of Brooksville, a teacher at the Moore Community Center in Ellsworth, will be a lead teacher.
The center will maintain a 7-1 child-to-staff ratio, Farragher said, with additional staff hired as needed.
The presence of Down East YMCA in Blue Hill is on the rise. In January of this year, the YMCA opened its fitness center, with the financial assistance of the Lawrences, and just last week, school board members unanimously approved an after-school program at the elementary school, operated by the YMCA.
Farragher will meet with BHCS Principal Della Martin this week to “make sure we’re on the same page” as to what expectations the school has for its entering kindergarteners.
“What’s being achieved…is daycare in a responsible center.” said Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz, who attended the September school board meeting with Farragher and Doug Orville, CEO of Childhood and Family Opportunities of Washington and Hancock counties, to discuss the possibility of bringing early childhood education to Blue Hill through the school. But the school has no available space and, with a straw poll at town meeting that showed 176-104 votes in favor of a pre-K program at the school, the board has formed its own pre-K committee.
“I brought them all together so they could have a conversation,” Schatz said, and a childcare center that served employed families, in an existing building made sense to everybody involved.
“The big problem in all of this is how do you fund these things. The people who need the services can’t always pay for it,” he said.
The cost of the YMCA childcare center is based on a sliding scale. The center will run from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Financial assistance is made available through state programs and the YMCA’s annual appeal.
“We try to make sure that we don’t turn people away because they don’t have the ability to pay. That’s our mission,” said Farragher. He said that about 36 percent of the 150 children enrolled in the Ellsworth program get assistance through the state.
While tuition will fund the center once it has opened, the Lawrences’ donation of the building and the funds to renovate and equip it have made the future childcare center possible.
“We couldn’t have done it without them. That’s the real deal,” said Farragher.