Barbara Van Reed
The Guild of St. Agnes of Worcester was in the Webster news last month when it took over the Mapfre/Commerce Insurance Early Learning Center on Bigelow St. The child care center had been designed exclusively for the company’s employees since its opening 26 years ago. Commerce Insurance had notified parents that they intended to sell the facility, as it had become economically unsustainable, and had issued a request for proposals from area child care organizations.
Diane Boss, director of the center, had worked there as a Commerce Insurance employee for 25 of those years. “It was emotional for all of us,” she said of the change. The number of children enrolled in the center had been falling in recent years, which Diane attributes to a combination of a poor economy, Mapfre/Commerce Insurance parents’ aging, and moms or dads dropping out of the work force, negating the need for fulltime child care.
While the number of children had grown smaller, the staff had not. Mapfre had kept them all on. Now, however, the staff has been reduced by nine people, including three of the four management staff.
All the teachers at the center have college degrees in early childhood development. That focus on teacher education and experience will continue with the Guild of St. Agnes. All its teachers have a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education or related field, and all its centers are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Ed Madaus, Executive Director of the Guild of St. Agnes, is enthused about the child care center’s future. The first change will be that it will be open to the public, providing Webster and nearby communities with another child care options.
The transition was very smooth, he said, with little disruption, and credits both parties. “The staff has been wonderful.” Mapfre had planned to make the change in December, but decided not to wait, and implemented the transition on July 2.
Mr. Madaus described the center as fabulous, a “state-of-the-art” facility. “Commerce Insurance obviously spared no expense when they built it,” he said.
Diane gave us a tour of the facility, and it is indeed, state-of-the-art. The rooms are very large and light, and filled with colorful activity stations and cupboards full of things to do. Each room has a child-size bathroom with child-level seats and child-height sink, where they are taught to hand wash, encouraging good hygiene from the start, said Diane, with a smile. One room has been set up as a library. Another has been set up for moms to have some privacy when they come to nurse their infants. It’s complete with comfortable rocking chairs.
Each of the toddler and preschool rooms along one side of the building opens up into its own age-appropriate outside playground area. Each has different size jungle gyms and playground equipment, as well as a permanent shade structure. In winter, when there is too much snow to go outside, the play activity moves inside to the 60-foot long indoor gym.
Currently the center is licensed for 94 children. On any given day there may be a total of 80 children, but many of them are part time, so there is room for growth. The facility can be licensed for as many as 130 children, and the Guild plans to apply for the expanded license. The configuration of the rooms is flexible, and can be adjusted for more or fewer infants, toddlers, and preschool rooms, explained Ann Flynn, Director of Advancement for the Guild.
Sharon MacDonald, Director of Programs for the Guild, said that they plan to expand enrollment and hours, and hope to start up an after school program as well.
The Guild of St. Agnes will celebrate the 100th year of its founding next year. The Guild started on Vernon Street in Worcester at the Ascension Parish with the goal of providing job training for girls at Union Station. They soon discovered that if the women were going to work, they would need child care, and so the Guild became a child care provider early on. It provided many other social services as well.
The Guild belonged to the Diocese of Springfield, and became part of the Worcester Diocese when it was established in 1950. In 1973 the Guild split from the diocese and became a separate legal entity, a 501 ( c ) 3 non-profit, so that it could accept children from the state. Although it severed all legal and financial ties with the church, the separation was amicable, said Mr. Madaus, and they kept the name. Catholic Charities took over many ofits other social services functions.
“We’ve been around a hundred years,” said Mr. Madaus, “and we plan to be around for another 100.”
The Guild of St. Agnes is the largest provider of child care in Worcester County, with programs from Bellingham to Athol. In addition to facilities in Worcester and Charlton, the Guild contracts with about 125 outside providers, private homes licensed with the state. Ms. MacDonald emphasized that the Guild is responsible for case management of the children.
The Guild of St Agnes won the bid for the Mapfre Early Learning Center because “we’re just good guys,”
said Mr. Madaus, in good humor. For the children, parents, and staff of the center, we hope so, because they certainly deserve as much.
- Wednesday, 01 August 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Letter From the Editor