News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 19, 2019
Community comes together in support of local childcare

by Faith DeAmbrose

With the news of a sudden closure by the Down East Family YMCA of its Blue Hill-based daycare, serving 25 local children, a former staff member began the licensing process to open a new childcare business on the peninsula. What Nichole Johnson did not expect, however, was the outpouring of support she has received. From a public GoFundMe page to donations from another area daycare, support from the community is what is making it possible for the young mother of two to get the business up and running.

The YMCA daycare closed on September 13 with a two-week notice to families and its employees. The news caused parents to scramble, and drove area organizations and businesses to offer support. It also caused Johnson to move forward with plans to open her own business, which she will call Golden Sun Childcare.

From as far away as Trenton, Betsey Grant of Tiny Tikes daycare took note and donated $2,000 from funds set aside by the business for community support. “I can’t imagine an organization closing their childcare center with such little notice,” she said, so when she heard the news she knew she had to help. “I tithe and put away 10 percent of what the daycare makes to give back to the community.” Those funds were only one part of what Tiny Tikes would come to donate. In addition, staff from the business, in conjunction with a local competition cheerleading squad, held a “date night” over the weekend where parents were offered a night out without their children. That event raised an additional $5,000. “Quality childcare is important to the economy and every area of the community benefits from it, but no one ever talks about that aspect,” said Grant.

So far, more than 50 people have contributed to a GoFundMe page to help with start-up costs. Ranging from those with children expected to attend the not-yet-open daycare to those who believe “that quality early childcare is essential for the health and well being of children and families,” donations as of September 17 are totaling close to $4,000.

An ongoing bottle drive is also in the works, with Johnson’s front lawn on Union Street in Blue Hill covered with bagged bottles.

With two locations secured: one in Blue Hill at the roundabout across from TradeWinds on South Street and another in Sargentville across from the Eggemoggin Country Store, Johnson now begins the process of building out each building.

In that task, she has received help from Blue Hill contractor Jeremy Carter who has walked through the buildings with Johnson to identify the work necessary to satisfy local building and fire regulations.

Businesses such as Hammond Lumber and Viking Lumber have agreed to help in some way, said Johnson, and Adams Landscaping has offered to install fencing at the Blue Hill location when the time comes. She said that there have been a number of other businesses and individuals that have offered support and she said she plans to accept it.

The YMCA allowed Johnson to take the playground equipment and other items from the daycare, although much of it had previously been donated by parents throughout the years. On moving day, parents and staff members enlisted vehicles and even a flatbed truck to move the items to other locations for temporary storage.

“I am still a bit in shock, and some of it is even difficult to process” said Johnson on September 15, but she added that the community support is what will make it possible for the business to open as soon as licensing is granted—a process that could take 60 or more days.

In the meantime, Johnson and additional staffers from the former YMCA daycare will be babysitting some of the displaced children while the daycare can be established, and she will continue to reach out to local businesses and make her dream a reality—while also providing much-needed childcare for the peninsula’s young families.

Recognizing all the support she has already received and what has been pledged for the future, Johnson said she is grateful and appreciative and is already looking for ways to give back.

As she navigates the licensing and construction of the facilities, Johnson is keeping a record of all the tasks she is required to complete and the steps needed for each. She will eventually turn those into a manual to help other people open their own childcare businesses. “Even though I was given a list of what I needed to do, each had many more steps, which in some cases weren’t anticipated,” she said, adding that she also plans to create something for each facility which will honor all the donors who have helped make the daycare possible.

Editor’s note: This story was changed to correct the date of the daycare closure.