PUTNEY — If Katy Emond succeeds, in September, Putney parents like her will have a new resource to help ameliorate the challenges of being working parents.
Emond - a community member for 40 years, a high school teacher for 16 years, and a swimming instructor for 25 years - is also the mother of three children.
Soon, she hopes to become executive director of the Putney Community & Childcare Center, her vision to help parents who must work but too often cannot find or afford quality child care.
“I am someone who has faced the difficult challenge of struggling to find a work-life balance that doesn't shortchange my kids during these few, precious years of their youth,” says Emond. “And I know that I am not alone in this struggle.”
According to Emond's website at Bellows Falls Union High School, where she has taught since 2009 and from which she is currently on leave, she grew up in Putney and attended Brattleboro Union High School. She has an undergraduate degree from Salem State College in Salem, Mass., with a graduate degree from Keene State College in curriculum and instruction. She taught for two years in Florida before returning to Vermont to teach at BFUHS.
“I love being part of our Putney community and feel so fortunate to be able to raise my children here,” she continues. “However, we are short on some of the fundamental resources we need to help our children thrive.”
Emond has big plans and needs community support to make the dream come true.
“The more I develop it, the more I realize it's the only program of its kind,” she says. “When you live here, you have to drive. The opportunity to bring services to the kids is really exciting.”
The need for quality time
After Emond and her husband welcomed their son Charlie to their family this past year, she was not able to return to work because she couldn't find child care for her new baby or after-school care for her two older children.
“This year was such a gift, but I quickly learned how many other parents are also feeling the burden of having to make difficult decisions about how to work and care for their kids,” she says.
“Through conversations with friends, parents, and other community members, I realized just how serious this need is,” she says.
Emond says that when she was slated to return to work in the fall of 2022, after finally finding a day care space for Charlie, “I learned at the last minute that my job wasn't going to be able to accommodate the day care's hours and I would need to take an additional year's leave of absence.”
“That's when I decided it was time to stop complaining about the issue and actually do something about it,” she says.
While she and her husband were at work, Emond wanted her kids to spend quality time in a place where “kids could thrive during the day and after school.”
She also wanted a program that was “more than just a holding tank for my kids while I wrapped up my work day.”
“I wanted them to be able to have access to enrichment programs like dance, art, sports, and music, since I often worked too late to then transport them to after-school activities or practices,” she says.
“I wanted our time after work and school to be quality time spent discussing our days, not racing around to different activities and trying to coordinate dinner before a rushed bedtime,” she continues. “I know I am not alone in this dream, and I hope that you will join in my vision for building a stronger Putney.”
A space in her sights
Emond believes she is an “ideal candidate” to run the new center.
“My many years as a drama director have given me the management skills I need to run the facility, and my vast experience working with children of all ages makes me more than qualified to participate in the role of lead teacher and youth coordinator during the initial startup of each phase,” she says.
She also notes she has more parents wanting swimming lessons and more for their children than she can accommodate.
Because there is such a demand for child care nationwide, numerous grants are emerging to help offset the startup costs involved.
However, says Emond, this particular project requires the specific property she has in mind to be successful and, while property is rarely on the market long in Putney, the process of applying for and administering grants is a time-consuming process.
While she can't name the exact building or owner because she has yet to sign a lease, Emond says the location is “in the heart of downtown Putney, across from the library."
In the meantime, Emond has reached out to the building owner and proposed a one-year lease agreement prior to purchase so that the new business can “get off the ground before investing in such a large acquisition.”
She's also been working with several organizations, including the Winston Prouty Center, the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, Let's Grow Kids, the Vermont Small Business Development Center, and the Putney Town Manager's office.
“Choosing to live in Putney means choosing to plant roots in a vibrant, safe, community that prides itself on inclusion, activism, and kindness,” says Emond. “It means raising kids in a place where it feels like everyone knows each other and where green spaces and forest classrooms vastly outnumber towering buildings and thick pollution.”
But there's a flip side to those benefits.
“It also means facing the very real struggle of trying to find quality child care, aftercare, and educational programming beyond school without having to drive over an hour at the beginning and end of each day,” Emond says.
Emond's goal is to open the facility in September of this year, providing an immediate day care program and aftercare programming with quality enrichment activities. She also hopes to offer the enrichment classes to the community at large, not just to aftercare students.
By June 2023, Emond hopes to expand day care to offer additional enrollments and day camps with a wide range of activities and programming to assist with child care for school-aged children in the area.
“Ideally, we would offer enrichment programming through our day camps such as drama, music, and art, as well as various sports camps,” she says.
Costs and fees would be contingent on available grants.
In September 2023, Emond hopes to expand the program to offer a teen center space with a youth program director who would coordinate safe, developmentally appropriate programming for teens and youth in the area while providing supervision at the center.
The space would include video games, activity tables, and outdoor recreation activities like basketball and possibly a skatepark. Ideally, by 2023, the center would transition from a limited liability company to a nonprofit corporation.
The goal is, by spring 2025, to break ground on an indoor aquatics center.
This facility would include not only a fitness center, locker rooms, and spa services such as a sauna, steam room, a massage room by appointment, and a hot tub, but also two or three separate indoor swimming pools, one for lap swimming and one or two smaller, heated pools for infant and toddler swimming lessons. Depending on funding, there may be an area for a splash pad as well.
Emond envisions this space as accessible year-round to residents of Putney, Westminster, Dummerston, Brattleboro, and Bellows Falls. It would provide swimming lessons, physical therapy, aqua aerobics, a swim team, prenatal swim therapy, and more.
The aquatics center would partner with the community center so that swimming lessons could be an enrichment activity and parents could use the center while also having access to child care while they take classes or exercise.
The first phase of the ambitious vision includes buying a property in Putney, the location of which Emond says is “ideal,” not only because it is easily accessible to downtown but also to current low-income housing developments and the newly proposed development slated to be constructed by the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust.
Once the property has been purchased or leased and renovated to include fencing and outdoor play areas, it would house a day care center from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and an aftercare program from 3 to 5:30 p.m.
Emond would be the first and only employee for the daycare program and assisting/substituting in the after-school care program as needed. Ideally, the aftercare program would have one or two additional employees to start, depending on enrollment.
During the summer months, the program would offer day camp instead of aftercare, with aftercare employees' roles shifting accordingly. The ideal employee candidates would be paraprofessionals or school employees who are available after school part-time during the calendar school year and full-time during the summer months.
Emond sees the benefits of the plan to the community in addition to the services provided as also providing employment opportunities within the community at a high wage.
The second phase of the project calls for hiring additional employees to extend day care operating hours renovating to offer a community space, and expanding services for dance classes, yoga, art, tutoring, and more.
These opportunities would be available for an additional fee in a package for students enrolled in the aftercare program or as individual opportunities that anyone in the community could pay to participate in.
It would also include a teen center or space within the building where pre-teens and adolescents in the community could safely gather. This area would have indoor and outdoor recreation activities and the part-time youth coordinator to supervise and organize events for this specific group.
Emond says she would partner with the Putney Foodshelf to offer healthy, free snacks to those enrolled. Ideally, the program would be primarily financed through the school district or subsidized by the town; however, people would initially need a membership to access these resources.
Raising capital for the project
Emond has started a GoFundMe page with the hope of raising $8,000. To donate, visit gofundme.com/f/the-putney-community-childcare-center.
She also has started a petition to garner support for the plan in hopes of raising grant and town money for the project. Anyone - whether a resident of Putney or another town - can sign at bit.ly/672-daycare.
“The more people that sign, the more likely we'll be able to get funding and purchase the property and offer scholarships and access child care more affordably,” Emond says.
“Katy is answering a vital need in our community,” writes Christine Grutta on the GoFundMe site. “And she will do it with so much positive energy, fun, and laughter! Go, Katy!
“Putney needs this - and Katy is the perfect person to make it happen,” writes Ruby McAdoo. “So glad to support this critically important project.”
Registrations are being accepted now for aftercare in September. Priority will go to families who register at putneychildcare.com before July 31.