WATERVILLE — At a meeting to address the future of the Children’s Place, no solutions emerged for concerned parents with few other options for child care if the facility cuts back its enrollment this summer because of a lack of funding.

Last week, Executive Director Richard Dorian said that come July, The Children’s Place Early Care and Education Center will have to go from serving 53 children aged 6 weeks to 5 years to 24 if it cannot find a grant or major donor to help keep the operation afloat. The center is already increasing weekly fees in February in an attempt to limp through the end of the fiscal year, which has placed a burden on many families who struggle to pay for the existing enrollment bills. It costs an average of $320 per week for a child to attend the Children’s Place.

At the Tuesday evening meeting, Dorian told a sizable turnout of parents that the board is “in the process of trying to figure out where some good places are to put our time and our energy into conversations with other funding partners or other folks that would like to partner with us in some way.”

Dorian said that while the Waterville community has sympathized with the current strain on the organization, he is not optimistic about major donations coming through.

“At least 50 people in the past two days have said, ‘Oh my god, this is terrible. We can’t let this happen,'” Dorian said. “And I’ve said, ‘Great, send a check. Where’s your donation? How is your business, your organization, going to help?’ And I can tell you I’ve (received) nothing of any size or significance — and by significance, I mean more than a few hundred dollars. It’s gotta be something that is significant enough for us to really shift gears. … I don’t think it’s impossible, but it’s not likely.”

Dorian told the parents that the Children’s Place needs to work with them to figure out a backup plan in case a bailout does not come.

“If we can’t line up other significant funding … what kind of alternatives or what kind of options do we all want to work for?” he asked the audience.

Children’s Place Executive Director Richard Dorian meets with parents Tuesday in Waterville to discuss the possibility of an enrollment cutback next summer as a result of a funding shortage.

When asked about alternate facilities that could accommodate the students now enrolled at the Children’s Place, however, Dorian answered vaguely. He noted that a Winslow woman was interested in opening an early-childhood care facility this summer but did not expand on it with any details.

“There are others that I don’t even want to put on the table,” he said, later adding, “I’m not trying to evasive, but as soon as I say this is the process, I don’t want to do or say anything that will make anyone run for the door first.”

Several parents noted that other early child care options already have months-long wait lists and could not guarantee spots for their young ones next year.

With all the uncertainty over how many children the Children’s Place can accommodate next year — and whether those spots will be allocated to community members’ children or to the children of teens in the Sharon Abrams Teen Parent School Program — parents who are willing to pay the increased enrollment fees come February looked to Dorian for a promise that their decision ultimately would not leave them in the same place they would have been if they un-enrolled their children before the fee hike.

“This has been a really hard couple of weeks,” said Sarah Staffiere, who has a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old enrolled at the Children’s Place. “I feel like I’m in a place now where I have to do what’s best for my family. … Right now our plan is to keep (our two children at the Children’s Place) until we completely drain our savings, and then try to move them someplace else, which is just such a hard situation.

“We’re really gonna try to make it to the summer, but … I would need an 100 percent guarantee, on some level, that I’m not going to be thrown for a loop between now and June 30, because that would make a fool of me and my family if I did that, because I’m taking a risk,” she later added. “But I’m trying to hear what you say and not just walk away.”

Children’s Place Executive Director Richard Dorian meets with parents Tuesday in Waterville to discuss the possibility of an enrollment cutback next summer as a result of a funding shortage.

Dorian noted that he will try to get more information.

“I’m sorry to stand up here and say I don’t have better answers for you, but I’ll certainly get an answer about making a commitment about what we can and will do through June, but it is not our intention to do any shuffling or anything ahead of that timeline. We get that.”

On Tuesday evening, several parents also voiced frustration over the leaders of the Children’s Place having anticipated financial trouble, but having communicated the dire state of their funding only in the last month.

“I understand hard decisions had to be made, but I really, really, really wish you had brought us to the table sooner, because we’re a resource you could have used,” Staffiere said. “I have a strong voice and I’m smart, and I can articulate what’s going on, and I can be a representative for this organization; but it’s hard for me to do that, because I feel like it’s not going to help my family at this point.”

Kristen Giley echoed that sentiment, citing her frustration that Dorian and the board were asking for patience from families as they figured out a path forward.

“With all due respect, this has been extremely trying for every parent in the room. I hope you understand the impact this has had on our family. But the whole ‘we give you time to figure (things) out’ — we didn’t get that in return, so I have a really hard time putting my trust into that.”

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins


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