A child care save in the North Country
The idea: Use timely loans and customized training to make quality early-education available to as many families as possible.
It was almost lights-out at Country Day School.
Last December, Sandra Cabrera learned that a lease dispute had the child care center in Colebrook in imminent danger of closing. An attorney and mother of 3- and 1-year-olds who attend the school, Sandra immediately knew her options—and those of the other families—were going to be limited.
She was about to find out how limited.
The only other Colebrook center licensed for infants and toddlers was at or near capacity. The public school’s preschool was full. The next closest child care center, in Groveton, a little over a half-hour away, is usually full as well.
“If Country Day School closed, from the Canadian border to over an hour south there would be one small center that was full. That’s all that was available for children under 3 years old,” Sandra says.
So she engaged the center’s owner and its landlord in finding a way to keep the school open. They finally agreed to sell the real estate and the business to a nonprofit that would run it.
As the clock ticked toward the school’s closure, Sandra met with center directors, state officials, and others, and learned how financially precarious the child care business is.
When the school’s director left on short notice in early March, Sandra asked teacher Kate Ryder on Friday to step up as director the following Monday. They needed a state waiver because Kate didn’t yet have the required credentials.
The child care community rallied around saving the school. Although the new nonprofit had no money with which to buy the business and real estate, and a director with no management experience, the Community Loan Fund expedited financing, and connected the center with a child care management consultant.
“We wouldn’t have succeeded without them,” Sandra says. “They financed us on terms we could afford, helped us lower our operating costs, and provided stability and security.”
The school now offers more day and hour options for families. It reduced the cost of its infant care. Teachers got a small raise and access to a matched-savings program. Two teachers were added. This summer they won a grant that will pay for renovating the building and training teachers.
The lights stayed on. And Country Day School is thriving.
This article was first published in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s 2019 annual report.