Conley Connections Childcare owner Julie True said on Tuesday she is planning to reopen the Skowhegan business in the middle of June. The center cares for children ages two to six years of age. True started the business 18 years ago. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

SKOWHEGAN — When businesses began closing in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Julie True of Conley Connections Childcare in Skowhegan closed her doors but kept her two employees, thinking the closures would only last a couple of weeks.

On March 18, True’s roster at her day care numbered 17 children, ranging from ages 2 to 7. That same day, her day care closed because the parents who used her services had learned they would be working from home or had been furloughed or laid off.

“I had 17 kids on my roster,” True said, “and by March 18, I had zero. If I would have stayed open, I wouldn’t have had any kids.”

True did not officially close her business, which will celebrate its 18th anniversary in June, and lay off her two employees until Gov. Janet Mills announced statewide closures.

“I laid them off on April 1,” True said. “I didn’t when I initially closed my doors (March 18) because I thought I might reopen in two weeks, but by April 1, I knew I would have to stay closed longer.”

Sarah True, 13, cleans while helping her mother, Julie, at Conley Connections Childcare in Skowhegan on Tuesday. Julie, the business owner, said she is planning to reopen the center in the middle of June. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

One of her employees, True said, was able to receive unemployment compensation immediately because she had another job waitressing. True’s other employee, who works full time at the facility, applied April 1 when she was officially laid off.

As for True, she said she has struggled in her efforts to receive unemployment compensation and funding through the federal CARES Act.

True said she initially received advice from her accountant to file for unemployment compensation,.

Going into the filing process in early April, True said she knew she would likely be denied unemployment benefits because the state commissioner of the Maine department of Labor had told self-employed workers they would not be able to apply until May 1.

As of May 8, True learned she would receive unemployment compensation.

True said she has spoken with other child care providers in the area, some of whom decided to apply for small business loans and grants.

“I have a friend that applied for a small business loan and received the money,” True said, “but she’s not sure if she will have to pay it back.”

As for operating costs, True said she has not had to spend a lot of money lately on electricity or other upkeep, but did buy more than $1,000 worth of supplies to allow her day care to follow state guidelines. These supplies included individual cots for the children and individual cubbies to replace coat hooks, allowing kids to have their own space for their belongings.

Since she closed, True has also not been receiving income. While some providers are still charging for services during the pandemic, True said she “cannot feel right” charging for services she cannot provide.

“If I’m not open to provide the service during an emergency situation, I cannot feel right charging parents for a service that I’m not providing for them,” True said.

“And that’s been a struggle. We’re just trying to save money and cut costs. And the parents have been really good, too. They want to know how they can help.”

Being away from the children has also been a struggle for True.

“It has been heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s been really stressful for everybody.”

True said she has been able to stay afloat during the closure because her spouse is still working and she put some money aside at the beginning of the year.

True said she plans to reopen her day care June 15 and not much will change for the children, other than the new sleeping arrangements and more time spent sanitizing and cleaning.

Leading up to the opening, True has been at the day care a few times a week cleaning and preparing for children’s return.

“There will be hand sanitizer at all of the tables now, and the kids will be washing their hands a lot more,” True said. “I purchased 12 individual cots for rest time. Usually, they all sleep together in one room. Now they’re going to be separated and in their own space to rest.

“I think child care providers have been left out when it comes to essential workers. We are all in this together.”

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