ACAP, Housing Authority look to expand access to education, services with new center

3 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — With a new education and childcare center, Aroostook County Action Program and Presque Isle Housing Authority hope that more families can access regular childcare and employment, thus provide a more stable future for their families.

Even as COVID-19 restrictions ease, the closure of many childcare centers in Aroostook County — a result of reduced class capacities and shortages in workers — has forced families to make tough choices, Sue Powers, ACAP senior director of programs, said.

Many parents, both married and single, have had to choose whether to return to work or remain at home with their children due to a lack of childcare services and/or transportation. The result is a “cycle” that affects families’ yearly incomes and the local economy, she said.

“Many parents want to return to work but can’t find childcare. If they don’t have childcare, they can’t go to work and be productive, which affects employers,” Powers said. “When people can’t go to work, that affects the overall community.”

To help alleviate barriers to childcare and employment, ACAP has partnered with the Housing Authority to open a new Early Care & Education Center at 37 Birch St., located within the public housing neighborhood’s former community center.

Families living on Birch Street and in surrounding neighborhoods will have access to Head Start and Early Head Start classes, daycare and various ACAP services, including family coaching, heating assistance, nutrition programs and parenting and youth group meetings.

ACAP’s new Early Care & Education Center features classrooms for both Early Head Start and Head Start (pictured here). (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

Thus far, the new Head Start classes have enrolled 16 children while Early Head Start has eight children. Eligible children include those from ages 6 months to 5 years old. Starting July 19, the center will be open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and will provide daycare services after Head Start classes, allowing parents to pick up children after work hours.

Jennifer Sweetser, executive director of the Presque Isle Housing Authority, said that although the Housing Authority has traditionally provided daycare services, the partnership with ACAP will give families greater access to community services.

“Having [a family coach] will ensure that someone is here to follow up with the families on what they need, even if they only come for daycare,” Sweetser said.

The new ACAP Early Care & Education Center, located on Birch Street, features an Early Head Start classroom in addition to daycare services. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

For many lower-income families within the Housing Authority, transportation is a major barrier to service access. But the new ACAP center, located within walking distance of most apartment units, could help more children gain the early literacy skills needed for the transition to kindergarten.

“[The new location] is more convenient for parents who work,” said Kayla Provost, a mother of three whose youngest child will be attending Early Head Start. “I think having everyone here will also make the neighborhood a more connected community.”

During a recent open house, Alisia Dalbeck signed up her daughter Savannah for Early Head Start. As 15-month-old Savannah excitedly played in her new classroom, Dalbeck said that she also hoped the space would help children learn as well as gain friendships.

“It’s nice to know that [the center] is so close to home and that she’ll be comfortable here,” Dalbeck said.