Woodstock Selectboard okays $330K in child care grants

By Tom Ayres, Senior Staff Writer

The Woodstock Town Selectboard on Tuesday evening okayed $330,000 in grant funding to four child care centers to increase accessibility to programs for area families in significant need of care for their children. The grants are expected to create 75 to 80 new openings for children ages six months to twelve years in infant, toddler, pre-K, and after-school programs by June of 2024.

Allocation of $100,000 in funding to Bridgewater Community Childcare, located a few hundred yards across the Woodstock border in Bridgewater, was conditioned upon the Woodstock Economic Development Commission (EDC) obtaining a legal opinion that it is permissible for town funds to be used to subsidize a child care facility that is not located within the town of Woodstock proper. At this juncture, EDC representatives pointed out Tuesday, 75 percent of the present children enrolled at the Bridgewater child care facility. That enrollment level is anticipated to continue with future admissions, EDC Child Care Working Group Chair Todd Ulman offered Tuesday night.

The grants to Bridgewater Community Childcare, The Community Campus, Rainbow Playschool, and Woodstock Christian Child Care were endorsed by the EDC following a formal application process and review by the Child Care Working Group. The suggested allocations are the first from a new, large grant program that the EDC has instituted, signaling a change in priorities and focus for the commission’s grantmaking efforts moving forward.

The grants approved by the selectboard Tuesday included $140,000 to the Rainbow Playschool on Barnard Road in Woodstock to facilitate expansion of accredited staff; $100,000 to Bridgewater Community Child care for the construction of a new classroom and to support training of new staff; $60,000 to Woodstock Christian Child Care on Elm Street in Woodstock Village to support facility expansion, furniture, indoor play materials, and outdoor playground equipment; and $30,000 to The Community Campus, which shares a Barnard Road building with Rainbow Playschool, to provide a financial cushion to cover month-to-month expenses while the after-school program seeks to hire new staff members over the next 18 months, retain its current staff, extend health care benefits to employees and increase support for program needs to meet expanding enrollment.

EDC Chair Jon Spector said last month that any grants given out to child care providers will be subject to intensive quarterly monitoring to assure that the funds are being spent legitimately and to keep an eye on the centers’ progress towards meeting stated goals for expanded enrollment, as well as staff enhancement and satisfaction.

As part of the application and vetting process, the child care providers worked with the EDC on projections of how many child care slots will open up at each of the facilities in the next 18 months. Bridgewater Community Childcare expects to add 24 children in its six months-to-three years program by December of this year. The Community Campus projects it will be able to accommodate 14 additional youths between ages 5 and 12 to its after-school program by June 2024. The Rainbow Playschool intends to increase enrollment in its under-three program by 17 to 21 children by February of next year, while Woodstock Christian Child Care projects it will welcome 20 new attendees to its after-school program for children in pre-K through second grades by January of next year.

In a Tuesday evening email, Woodstock Christian Child Care Director Ruth Brisson said the Elm Street-based organization is “grateful and honored to receive a grant from the EDC to support our early-care and education programming for full-day, after-school and summer groups. Our center has served the families of this community well since 1994 and we look forward to using these funds to continue our efforts for many years to come. The grant funds will allow us to transform a mobile classroom to support our license expansion to add after-school and summer groups, and to create outdoor learning and activity areas to enhance our programs through nature-based learning and play.

“We are also thankful to the members of the EDC Child Care Working Group, who have worked for many months to help us get to this point. This generous grant is a wonderful example of our community helping us to help our community,” Brisson concluded.