Infant care in county gets boost from grant; MJCC to expand

MIDDLEBURY — Mary Johnson Children’s Center will soon be able to open its doors to infants thanks to a $24,000 grant from Vermont Birth to Five’s “Make Way for Kids” program.
In 2018, Vermont Birth to Five, an initiative of the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children, began its initiative to create 500 new high-quality childcare spaces across the state every year until 2025.
A 2018 study conducted by Let’s Grow Kids, the advocacy project of the Permanent Fund, found that 51 percent of infants and toddlers in Vermont likely to need care are projected to lack access to a regulated early care program, and 77 percent are likely to lack access to a high-quality program. (Click here to read about a local mom struggling to find childcare for her 2-year-old.)
This year’s grants to 23 Vermont child care programs throughout the state total $455,500, and allow these programs to offer almost 400 new childcare spots and increase the quality of over 400 additional childcare spots.
As Addison County’s sole grantee, Mary Johnson will add eight infant spaces to its early childhood education program.
“This is part of a whole-community effort to try to address the lack of childcare,” Mary Johnson Children’s Center Co-director Barbara Saunders said of the grant.
Linda January, executive director of Otter Creek Child Center in Middlebury, agreed that professional care for infants is sorely needed in Addison Couny.
“I’m grateful that Mary Johnson is able to add infant spots, and to do so so quickly is great for this community,” January said.
January says that one of primary reasons for the infant care shortage is that it’s they are really expensive programs to run.
“If a center can’t find staff to meet the needs of the infant room, that’s the first room that tends to go. It’s a huge cost,” she said.
According to Saunders, the grant will cover the cost of renovating a building for a new infant space, plus investing in infant-specific equipment, including cribs, sinks and a diaper changing area. The building that will be renovated is adjacent to MJCC headquarters on Water Street in Middlebury.
Mary Johnson purchased the building where the infant program will reside in 2008. The space had been used by the Aurora School, then the Gailor School, and most recently it has been occupied by offices for Mary Johnson’s Referral and Resource programs.
MARY JOHNSON CHILDREN’S Center in Middlebury will use its Barrera House building to offer eight infant spaces in its early childhood education program this fall.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
With the outfitted infant care space, the center, which currently provides programming for children 18 months to five years, will be able to expand its reach to include children three months to 18 months.
Saunders hopes that the construction will be completed in time for a September opening.
Although there is a waitlist for the infant program, the center has not completely finished enrolling the classroom, as the staff is working with families to navigate full-time and part-time options.
Saunders believes that while eight spots isn’t a ton, the additional infant care spaces represent “a step in the right direction” toward narrowing the childcare shortage in the county.
“The community has been talking about the crisis in infant care and the lack of infant care in Addison County,” Saunders said. “This grant is an opportunity to address this issue.”

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