On June 19th at 11:15 a.m., our church approved a proposal for a nonprofit-led child care center to operate within our church facility. Stay tuned for more information!
In its over 200 year history, The Congregational Church of Middlebury has sought ways to care for the most vulnerable in our community. Seventeen years ago, Charter House began as a ministry of our church and has grown into a separate nonprofit that serves our homeless community. Today, our church has the opportunity to birth a new ministry, one that will serve the littlest people in our town—infants and toddlers. We know there’s a dire scarcity of child care in our county. We feel God calling us to help address this need by providing space for a child care center that would serve working families in our community. The Gospel shows us that Jesus cared about the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, and the marginalized. And, Jesus cared about children, saying “let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14).
We know that sharing our building with a child care program will not be easy. Our church is a productive and busy community, and we are working closely with Church Council, church members, and staff to talk through possible challenges and identify solutions that will allow for us to share space in a way that uplifts all of our programs, ministries, and events. In the earliest days of our work as an exploratory committee, we reached out to other church-based child care programs to learn from their experiences. The church leaders we spoke with were generous with their wisdom and offered varied advice and suggestions. But a universal message was the positive impact these programs had within and beyond their church walls. It was, they assured us, their most profound ministry. It was one not without challenges, but one that had community impact beyond what they could have predicted.
We are energized by the unique opportunity our church has to embrace this role in our community, to offer beautiful and modern space to a high quality child care program that will provide working parents with comfort and peace knowing their children are well cared for during their earliest years. We are excited to share more of what we are learning with you all, and to hear from you about the potential challenges and opportunities this endeavor may bring to our congregation.
Our workgroup feels called to this ministry, and it is our great hope that soon, the entire church will feel this call as well. As always, if you have any questions or thoughts, please be in touch with our chair, Ellen Whelan-Wuest
What (and who) is the Child Care Exploratory Workgroup?
In March, Church Council approved the formation of a workgroup that would explore the potential for opening a child care center within the church building. Rev. Elizabeth Gleich brought a team together and we named ourselves the Child Care Exploratory Workgroup, or ChEW. We have met almost weekly these past few months and have relied on the wisdom and guidance of other church and community leaders to inform our understanding of why child care is so essential, and what it would mean for a center to operate within our church building.
ChEW’s members are: Ellen Whelan-Wuest (chair), Tanya Byker, Mark Gleason, Rev. Elizabeth Gleich, Alyssa Sinclair and Ginny Sinclair.
What are we asking the church to vote on at the Special Congregational Meeting on June 19?
“To consider and act upon the proposal for a nonprofit-led child care center to operate within our church facility.”
Why child care?
Like education, health care, and housing, child care is an essential part of a strong and functioning society and economy. Parents cannot work if they are unable to find care for their children. In Vermont 72.8% of children under the age of five have parents who are part of the labor force, which means they require child care while they are working. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that there is not enough child care available to meet the need, and child care employees are grossly under compensated and increasingly leaving the profession. Compounding these challenges is the fact that existing child care is often unaffordable for both parents and providers.
The local statistics describing the child care crisis in Vermont and in Addison County are daunting:
8,752 Vermont children ages 0-5 do not have access to high-quality, regulated child care spots they need.
Of these, 5,000 spots are needed for the youngest children.
In Addison County we would need an additional 452 child care spots to meet the needs of working parents who have children ages 0-3.
Why our church?
Because our faith calls on us to care for our neighbors and the least among us.
Because our church has a long and proud history of stepping into spaces of great need and providing food (Community Suppers) and shelter (Charter House).
Because our church has a beautiful building with classroom spaces that mostly go unused 6 days per week.
Because we have the opportunity to be part of solving a problem that is bigger than all of us and needs everything we can offer to overcome.
What kind of child care center would operate within the church?
Our proposal for a child care center is based on overarching goals and a specific program model:
The center will charge rates that are comparable to other county centers.
The center will pay a liveable wage and will provide its employees with access to benefits (Child care employees are paid an average of $14-17/hour in Addison County.)
The center will reserve spaces for low-income families who qualify for state child care subsidies.
The center will work towards becoming an accredited high-quality, regulated child care center.
The center will be an independent non-profit that does not fall under the church’s direct control. This will help establish a liability shield between the center and the church.
The center will not be a satellite of another existing program. This allows for a governance structure (like a Board of Directors) that will include church leadership and enable strong coordination without over-exposing the church financially or legally.
The center will be led by an employed Program Director with oversight provided by a volunteer Board of Directors made up of church leadership as well as non-church community members.
The center will provide care to infants and toddlers (ages 6 weeks to 3 years old). This group of children are in greatest need of high-quality child care spaces in our county and statewide.
The center will serve working families by offering a schedule that supports people who work full-time. We will rely on an experienced Program Director to determine the details of the exact hours of operation so that working parents are able to access the care they need.
The center will not offer a specifically religious curriculum or program.
From the beginning, our workgroup has been in conversations with church staff, lay leaders, Church Council and others who regularly use the church
building for programs, events, and ministries. Unsurprisingly, these conversations have been collaborative, open-minded, and creative. While we know a full-time child care center will affect other ministries of our church, our goal is that church programs and a child care center will peacefully coexist in a spirit of collaboration and open communication.
Classrooms: We propose that the center occupies the three downstairs classrooms: Room 11 (ages six weeks-1 year), Room 14 (1-2 years), and Room 13 (2-3 years). We plan to design these rooms in a way that will allow church school to fully function on Sunday mornings.
Playground: The area outside the Seymour Street exit will be the site for a fenced in play area. This area will be landscaped, fenced, and include small play structures for infants and toddlers to play, learn, and run. We also hope to use Fellowship Hall as a gross motor play space for limited hours when there is inclement weather. We are in conversation with church members and leaders and will plan for ongoing and consistent communication with the center’s Program Director to ensure smooth coordination so that sharing this space does not detract from other ministries.
Other basics: Storage remains an ongoing conversation with church staff and other lay leaders. Our current proposal is that storage will be shared in each classroom as well as in the pantry off of Fellowship Hall.
If the church approves moving forward, we will work with the church’s attorneys to draft a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would outline the operating agreement between the center and the church. This MOU would clearly define the shared use of church spaces and establish expectations and standards for how the center’s director will communicate and coordinate with church leaders and members around shared space. We believe that with collaboration, strong communication and planning we can ensure that the church still feels like the home we love while also opening our doors to more people.
How will the church building be impacted and changed to accommodate a child care center?
Renovations: In order to meet Vermont Child Care Licensing Regulations, we have to make changes to our church building and campus. These things include, but are not limited to, sinks in classrooms; an outdoor play space; washer and dryer; and play and learning equipment. We are working closely with the Board of Trustees on these matters.
Wear and tear: We have created a budget item that would cover annual maintenance needs with the goal of using these dollars to cover the costs of building and classroom wear and tear that would come from a child care center. We would also include a strong communication expectation between the program director, the Board of Trustees, and the Building Manager to ensure continual upkeep of our building.
Parking: In order to receive zoning approval from the town of Middlebury we will need to present a parking plan that indicates how our current parking spaces on Pleasant street and in the Seymour street lot can and will accommodate additional staff and families who will drop off and pick up their children during the day. We are working with the Board of Trustees and the Middlebury zoning administrator to ensure this plan is well-thought through and approved based on current traffic patterns. We also know that church members rely on our parking lot during the week to access the church building, and we intend to work closely with the Trustees to establish a plan for how this may continue even as the use of that lot increases with a child center.
Will the church be directly operating or financially responsible for the child care center?
The church will not directly operate the child care center. Instead, the center will be its own non-profit overseen by a board of directors, on which some church members, pastor(s), and other community members will sit. We see this as a middle-way, allowing the church to have a close relationship with the center because we are sharing space so closely, while not getting the church staff and pastors in the business of the day-to-day running of a child care center.
In-kind donations of space and utilities: While we may ask the church to contribute some amount of money to the operational cost of the child care center, we are not relying on this for income. Instead, we are hoping the church will donate the use of the space and cost of utilities.
Fiscal sponsorship: At the June 8th Church Council meeting, we will request approval for the church to function as a fiscal sponsor for the center’s non-profit until it has 501(c)3 status. This arrangement will enable the center to use the church’s 501(c)3 status in applying for charitable funds and grants, while not risking the liability shield in place between the church and the center.
What are the liability implications of having a child care center within the building?
We have received legal advice that the best way to create a strong liability shield between the church and a child care center operating in our building will be to establish the center as a separate non-profit.
We have already created a non-profit with the state in order to move forward with preliminary work, and if a center is approved by the congregation a goal would be for it to seek and obtain full 501(c)3 status.
See above about Fiscal Sponsorship and liability implications.
What will it cost to open and operate a child care center?
We know there are two areas of funding we will need to have in place in order to open and operate a center that meets the program goals and model outlined above.
Infrastructure costs: While the available church space is new and in wonderful condition there are updates and renovations we will need to make in order to meet licensure requirements. A center will also require new equipment, including for an outdoor play structure and for the classrooms. Another factor is the high and rising costs of construction. Based on current prices and educated assumptions we believe these infrastructure costs will total $215,000.
Start-up and long term operating costs: A gap exists between what is reasonable and affordable for families to pay for child care. What a child care center requires in order to staff and operate a high quality program. In order to pay staff a living wage and provide benefits, while still reserving spaces for low income families and charging other parents a reasonable rate for care, the budget for a child care center will have to operate at a deficit. Therefore, we are planning and raising funds to cover budget losses and provide the center time to work towards higher accreditation, and to establish a strong and proven fundraising and grant application strategy that will sustain it thereafter. Right now we estimate needing $300,000 to sustain up to 5 years of budget deficits as the center gets up and running.
What funding has been raised already?
Operating a child care program often requires fundraising and receiving philanthropic or government grants to keep the doors open.Gratefully, we have made strong progress in raising funds and have received $360,000 to help cover renovation and start-up costs for the center. In addition, we have been promised $200,000 more if the church approves the proposal on June 19th. Furthermore, we are actively drafting proposals for available grants that we can submit if the church approves moving forward.
If the Congregation approves this proposal on June 19th, what work would come next and how long would it take for the center to open?
Receiving church approval would enable the planning to accelerate. We would immediately begin working on the following:
Continue to follow and meet state licensing guidelines.
Hire a program director who can begin to map out a curriculum, apply for state accreditation ratings, and create and implement a plan to hire teaching staff.
Create a governance structure to include a Board of Directors and establish strong and early coordination between the center and the church.
Work with Middlebury’s Developmental Review Board to update our conditional use permit and receive approval for this new use of our building.
Submit grant applications for start up funding and additional financial support.
Begin the renovation process and establish a timeline for opening the center.
Questions to be resolved if approved:
What will the center be named? For the purposes of registering a non-profit with the state, we chose “Rainbow Child Center” as a placeholder name for the child care center. We anticipate that a final name will be established through a more intentional and formal process.
What will the enrollment process be for the child care center? We will rely on the Program Director to establish a process for accepting families into the child care center and maintaining a wait list.
Will there be volunteer opportunities to support the center?
We believe there will be ample opportunity for church members, as well as parents and others in our larger community, to volunteer and support the child care center. We will rely on the Program Director to determine the best way to make these opportunities available.