WATERVILLE — U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, visited Educare Central Maine for the first time Wednesday, and said she was impressed with the early childhood education center.

“It’s a beautiful facility,” she said. “It’s just such a great opportunity to have this resource.”

Pingree toured the facility with Mayor Karen Heck, who planned to accompany her later in the day for tours of Hardy Girls, Healthy Women, located downtown; and Mid-State Machine in Winslow.

Heck, a founder of Hardy Girls, took the opportunity to discuss with Pingree and Educare officials Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed $3.8 million funding cut to the Early Head Start program.

Educare serves 217 children ages 5 weeks to 5 years. Most are from low-income families and considered to be at risk.

About 30 percent of Educare’s funding comes from Early Head Start and Head Start, Educare officials told Pingree. Statewide, about 335 children from low-income families would lose access to quality Early Head Start with funding cuts, they said.

Heck, Kathy Colfer, director of Child & Family Services for Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, and Lauren Sterling, philanthropy specialist for Educare, emphasized the Educare philosophy that most brain development occurs in a child’s first few years of life — and with nurturing, a positive environment, help for and collaboration with parents, children are more ready for kindergarten and more likely to succeed.

The $9 million Educare center was built in 2010 with support from Doris Buffett’s Sunshine Lady Foundation and others including federal stimulus funds.

Funds for the center’s operation come from Head Start and Early Head Start, the state Department of Education, federal child care funds, parent fees and donors.

“Our first year results here were excellent for school readiness for children,” Colfer said.

Colfer and Sterling supplied Pingree with a document outlining the effect of state and federal decisions on Educare. Pingree was sympathetic to the issue and said she would take the information, do some research and see whether she can be of assistance.

Colfer said Educare Central Maine is the only such center in the Northeast and the first rural center in the nation. It exists through a partnership of public schools, Head Start and philanthropists and goes through a national evaluation process.

“We’re 12 strong now,” Colfer said of the number of existing Educare centers. “There are 10 in the works — one in Washington, D.C., in fact. It will open in the fall.”

Pingree said afterward that she plans to talk about Educare when she returns to Washington, and having firsthand knowledge of the facility is a plus.

“There’s a big federal commitment to this, and I think many of us are in favor of pushing it even more,” she said. “I didn’t visualize it being as nice as it is.”

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, a financier and frequent Democratic donor who is a majority share owner of MaineToday Media, Inc., which owns the Morning Sentinel, Kennebec Journal in Augusta, The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and other media outlets in Maine.

Pingree faces re-election in November, and if elected, she will represent Waterville in the 1st Congressional District as a result of recent redistricting.

Asked whether she has endorsed a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Olympia Snowe, Pingree said she has not.

“It’s too early,” she said.

When Snowe announced she would not seek re-election, Pingree was expected to run for the seat, but she decided against it.

“I’m very happy to be running for the House,” she said Wednesday. “I love doing this and I’m thrilled Waterville moved back into the 1st District.”

Pingree and Sussman Wednesday evening were to attend a dinner at Colby College, where Sussman was to present the Maine Philanthropist of the Year Award to Maine author and historian Neil Rolde.

Rolde represented York County in the Maine House of Representatives for 16 years after serving six years on former Gov. Kenneth Curtis’ staff.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]


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