News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 5, 2019
Daycare closure causes scramble to secure new facility

Blue Hill YMCA Child Care Center

Blue Hill YMCA Child Care Center staff hand off 15-month-old Jackson Higgins, preschool teacher Nicole Johnson’s son.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Faith DeAmbrose

In the back of her mind, her two-year plan was to open a daycare. That two-year plan was recently—and radically—condensed when Nichole Johnson not only lost daycare for her 15-month-old child, but also her job. Now, she hopes to formulate a plan for not only her future, but that of 24 other children, in just two weeks.

Johnson was told, along with eight other staff members on August 28 that she was losing her job and that the daycare facility in Blue Hill, operated by the Down East Family YMCA since 2013, would close September 13.

Parents were also given the same notice, on the same day.

The news came out of left field, she said, and seemed surprising since she had just been given a raise in the last pay period and the staff was in the process of choosing turf for the outdoor playground.

But, Johnson said, since the available options for daycare are limited and the answers from the YMCA have not been forthcoming, she was choosing to be positive and kick her two-year plan into full swing.

A call to the Maine Department of Health and Human Service’s Child Care Licensing Unit was her first step. There she learned what she’d need to have in place before she could apply to operate a daycare facility. If she could file the paperwork immediately, she said, the state said process could be expedited, reducing it to about 90 days.

High on that list is a location, she said, but in order to provide space for 24 children, she would need two locations. As she scouts locations and talks to property owners, Johnson said the support from the community and the parents of children currently at the center has been amazing.

“I have been given great advice, I have gotten phone calls from other daycare owners and people in the community who want to help,” she said.

In addition to finding a location, Johnson also has to write an employee manual and parent handbook, secure insurance and work with her accountant to understand the financial commitment that is needed.

The closure not only affects the eight employees of the daycare, but also the families of the two dozen children displaced with a two-week notice.

After hearing the news, parents mobilized quickly. Some came directly to the office of The Weekly Packet with the letter issued from the YMCA a day earlier, stating that their lives had been turned upside down, while others took to social media using the private functions of the Facebook platform to form a group chat where ideas were shared. Parents even met at a local restaurant on Monday afternoon where a live feed of the brainstorming session was broadcast to those who could not attend.

From that meeting, support was thrown behind Johnson to begin the work necessary to obtain licensing, along with a pledge from many parents to send their children to Johnson’s new daycare, which she said would operate from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Johnson said that a few members of the current staff have also pledged to stay with her, even if it means they may not be paid right away. On Tuesday afternoon, teacher Amanda Hamilton was planning a walk-through with Johnson at a location in Blue Hill and said she was committed to staying. Johnson and Hamilton, along with three other current staffers, will also help in the interim by taking up to 10 children daily while a location and licensing is secured.

The soon-to-be-created daycare will be a private business owned by Johnson, but she said that community support and parent participation are essential to its success. “I want parents to participate in the operation; I want it to be something that stays and lasts,” she said.

In order to get the daycare off the ground, Johnson will appeal to the greater community for help—both financial and in kind—as she pulls together the necessary pieces. She is currently brainstorming fundraising ideas with parents who have indicated their continued support. As parents came into the center to pick up their children on Tuesday, many offered whatever help was needed.