Neck of the Woods Child Care Center, currently located in and around the former Small Dog campus as well as other locations in The Valley, is working towards plans to purchase the Small Dog building and create a year-round child care/camp program as well as a community center.
Moie Moulton, executive director of the Neck of the Woods (NOW), was the founder of the Moretown Education Center for All (MECA), which until this spring had operated at the Moretown Elementary School since 2012. Moulton had grown the preschool, after-school and summer camp program at the Moretown School from three children to as many as 65 based on staffing and schedules.
Duane Pierson, the former principal at the school, reached out to Moulton who had recently graduated with a degree in education to ask her if she wanted to run a school day care program.
That’s how it started and what ultimately led to an enormously successful program that had been considered a model for how other Valley and Vermont schools could create similar partnerships. When schools were closed for COVID-19, Moulton and her team regrouped and started making plans for summer and the ability to offer summer camps and day care for local kids.
They created NOW, a nonprofit, and with the help of the Mad River Valley Community Fund, staff members and others helped find and license several locations to offer summer programming. They’re working out of the Waitsfield United Church of Christ Village Meeting Room, Small Dog and the Masonic Temple. Each location needed to be licensed to provide child care.
“When the community fund found out that she could not use the school, we helped find locations because we know The Valley pretty well. She had to figure out the licensing and the fire marshal for each location and we did a bulk order through Paradise Deli for things like gloves, bleach, paper towels and hand sanitizer,” said Rebecca Baruzzi, community fund program director.
“So many people reached out to give us supplies and donations. It’s been incredible to watch the community wrap around us and the families,” said Moulton, who grew up in Moretown and graduated from Harwood Union.
She said she and her staff do an incredible amount of cleaning to operate safely this summer and she anticipates that will continue through the fall. Pre-COVID-19, the summer programming had attracted kids from all across The Valley as well as kids vacationing in Vermont.
FROM LITTLE TO BIG
“It grew from a little child care program to a big child care program to after-school care to summer camps and then to a huge enrichment program offering strength-based programming that focuses on children’s strengths and building on them through social and emotional growth work,” Moulton said.
Don and Grace Mayer, Warren, owners of the Small Dog Building, are letting NOW operate in the building for free this summer and NOW is working on plans to raise funds to purchase the $700,000 building which offers 10,688 square feet in the main building and 4,800 square feet in the warehouse, plus solar panels.
In addition to operating infant and toddler programs along with after school, NOW wants to build a community center onsite for all ages of students and community members and will need to raise a total of $1.5 million to make that happen. Russ Bennett, NorthLand Construction, is working as program manager and he and NOW will appear before the Waitsfield Development Review Board on August 11 to discuss permitting.
While all this forward-looking work is going on, Moulton and her staff will continue to provide preschool, infant and toddler care as well as after-school care. Her fundraising committee is being named this week. Her current board members are JB Weir, David Green-Liebovitz, Magge Stone and Allie Batallile.
“Our first priority is to assist families in getting the care that they need outside of their current in-school plans. By this Friday, we hope to know if there are other places throughout The Valley, plus a couple of places in Duxbury where we could house a few more groups of kids to keep them in spaces that are safe and where we can focus on that safety,” she said.
Moulton has several key, long-term staff members whom she credits for their hard work and the success of MECA and now NOW, including Katie Alexander, kindergarten through sixth-grade program director; Maggie Martin, preschool programming director; Catrina Brackett, office administrator; plus, all of her teachers.