A local nonprofit takes on parental leave issue

MIDDLEBURY— Three years ago, Bridget Gosselin’s professional and personal lives were facing shakeups of major proportions.
She was pregnant with her daughter, Vivienne, and anticipating the challenges of being a single mom. And while she was entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave under Vermont law, her Burlington employer was not among the few in the Green Mountain State that offer benefits to bridge the costs of the first few months of being out of work to care for a new baby.
Accrued sick and personal time often isn’t adequate to cover basic household expenses during a three-month unpaid sabbatical, she noted in an interview this week.
“I realized, after I had my daughter, that six weeks wasn’t going to be enough for me,” said Gosselin, now 25.
So she quit her job and began doing some consulting work from home. Then, earlier this year, she had an epiphany based on her previous experience as a new mom: Why not launch a non-profit aimed at helping young parents make ends meet during those first few months caring for a newborn?
She spoke to some women who — like Gosselin — had to make career choices because they could not affordably miss work and sufficiently care for their newborns.
“I had been hearing in the area that there were so many people who were able to get limited time off, but it wasn’t paid,” Gosselin said.
Thus was born the “Parental Leave Project,” or PLP, led by Gosselin and a board of directors that sorts through — and tries to accommodate — financial assistance requests filed each year by new, cash-strapped Addison County parents.
“There are a lot of women on our board (of directors), and the cause resonates with them,” Gosselin said.
The PLP maintains a pool of funds to help families secure up to 60 percent of their household income for up to 12 weeks, if they aren’t receiving a paid family leave benefit from their employer. Gosselin has estimated the average household requires a financial boost of around $2,400 during just eight weeks of unpaid parental leave. The PLP is dedicated to helping families with newborns achieve that basic threshold by supplementing other revenues they might have at their disposal. The PLP has thus far given grants ranging from $500 to $1,500 to 33 qualifying Addison County families. The PLP officials must — in addition to weighing qualifying families’ needs — strive to make the biggest impact with its limited funds.
“We try to give as much as we can, but we are a very small organization,” Gosselin said.
Gosselin said the local need for parental leave funds is acute. Her research indicates an average of 32 children are born each month in Addison County. Approximately 25 of those 32 families don’t have the wherewithal to miss 12 weeks of paychecks, she said.
The PLP Grants are available to single parents, heterosexual couples and same-sex couples, as well as to people who are adopting, Gosselin noted. Those who wish to apply for a grant can get more information online at parentalleaveproject.org.
DROP-IN CHILD CARE
As one might surmise, a small nonprofit like PLP is very dependent on private contributions and any available grants. To supplement these sources, Gosselin and other PLP boosters are offering a drop-in child care service. Parents who provide 24 hours notice can call Gosselin at 802-377-0393 and arrange to drop off their children at a mutually agreeable location in downtown Middlebury. Gosselin and her colleagues take the children to activities at the Ilsley Library, local parks, and/or Junebug at 5 Park St., a non-profit resale store specializing in maternity-wear and children’s clothing. The store has a kids’ play room.
The sitters charge $20 for the first two hours, with $20 per hour after that, according to Gosselin.
A benefit gala for PLP is slated to be held this Thursday, Nov. 17, at 6:30 p.m. at Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury. At a cost of $25 per person, participants would enjoy fine local food, live music and a raffle with cash and other prizes.
“So far, people have been really generous,” Gosselin said. “Everyone who has been asked for donations has donated in some way.”
While PLP officials don’t plan on lobbying at the Vermont Statehouse, they will support legislation designed to provide workers with paid parental leave. Vermont earlier this year became the fifth state in the union to enact a paid sick leave law.
Maria Graham is executive director of the Junebug store, which regularly contributes any revenues beyond expenses to local causes helping children. The store recently gave $200 to the PLP, and would be receptive to giving more.
“She has an interesting (business) model,” Graham said of the Gosselin’s focus of giving direct financial aid to parents. “It will be interesting to see if it takes off.”
Past Junebug grant recipients have included the Mary Hogan Elementary and Vergennes Union Elementary read-a-thon programs, the Leicester Central School summer program, and a recent Bristol playground project. In 2015, Junebug donated more than $8,800 to a combined total of 37 organizations, including $1,000 each to a Ferrisburgh playground project and the Charter House Coalition’s homeless shelter, which serves families.
The Junebug board of directors considers the grant requests on a constant basis. Any child-related cause interested in applying for a grant can stop into the store or send an inquiry to Junebug at 5 Part St., Middlebury, VT 05753.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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