Parents and children from the Little Friends Early Learning Center in Freeport hold a drive-by parade to say goodbye to Kaytee Gibbon, who is going into self-isolation for a month before adopting a baby girl. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When Kaytee Gibbon stepped out of Little Friends Early Learning Center on Thursday and saw her young students holding signs, she had a feeling something special was going on.

And when cars covered with signs and full of children and parents pulled into the circular drive of the Freeport child care center, Gibbon couldn’t hold back her tears. Nearly 30 families showed up Thursday to surprise Gibbon with a goodbye celebration before she and her husband go into isolation for a month to prepare for the arrival of their first baby.

“It’s such a blessing to see them all and say goodbye,” Gibbon said. “One of the hardest things is not being able to say goodbye to all these students. I’m so desperately going to miss them, but I’m excited for what the future holds for my life.”

Erica Robinson of Durham and her daughter Madlyn Paladino, 3, drive up to drop off a gift to Kaytee Gibbon during a drive-by going-away party before Gibbon goes into self-isolation so she and her husband can adopt a baby. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Gibbon and her husband, Jesse, have been trying for five years to start their family. After experiencing unexplained infertility, the Bowdoin couple decided to pursue adoption nearly two years ago. The Gibbons will travel to New Hampshire in May for the birth of their daughter, but the coronavirus pandemic means they have to take extra precautions to protect themselves from being exposed to the virus or becoming sick.

Jane Purdy, owner and director of the childcare center, said Gibbon had planned to work until the end of April, but the virus outbreak changed that. With most of the center’s children staying home with parents, Purdy wanted to do something special to celebrate Gibbon, who has been a teacher there for eight years.

So Purdy launched “Operation Think Pink,” sending out an email to all parents asking what they thought of a drive-by celebration. They were all enthusiastic, she said.

“We’re just so happy for her. She’s so well loved,” Purdy said of Gibbon. “The kids were so happy and waving.”

As Gibbon stood on the front steps, cars decorated with signs and balloons drove slowly by. Children – and even a dog or two – wore party hats as they waved to their teacher. After, they took turns quickly stepping forward to hand gifts and cards to Gibbon, who was wearing gloves.

They managed to avoid the urge to hug each other.

“I’m so thankful for all of these kids and parents and staff here at Little Friends. It’s a family here and it’s so sad to have to leave it, especially under these circumstances,” Gibbon said. “Their act of love is so meaningful.”

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