Teachers Ashley Jones and Morgan Cash feed babies Jianna Rollins and Breckynn Theriault outdoors on a covered porch at Educare Central Maine in Waterville earlier this summer. Photo courtesy of Educare Central Maine

WATERVILLE — Rabbi Rachel Isaacs says there are few institutions she feels as strongly about as Educare Central Maine.

Her two young children are former students of the early learning and development center that serves children from birth to age 5. Educare focuses not only on the students, but also works with their families on skill development and other parenting needs.

Isaacs hosted a fundraiser in the garden of her Waterville home Thursday at which she praised the program, telling the story of how her daughters benefitted so much from the program that she became a member of its board of directors.

“They got the most amazing education,” Isaacs said. “They got all the basic skills they need to be informed, responsible citizens and learners, and they got that experience in a truly socially and racially and politically diverse environment.”

Isaacs, who is spiritual leader for Beth Israel Synagogue in Waterville, said she feels indebted to Educare, which teaches children not only academics but also social and emotional skills, nutrition and other matters. Educare, she said, has become one of the primary recipients of her family’s tithing each year.

“Educare needs the support,” she said. “It’s our greatest gem. It’s our greatest resource.”


Teacher Amanda Jandreau works with preschoolers Ethan Bellefleur, center, and Evelyn Duffy to create a nature-inspired structure at Educare Central Maine in Waterville earlier this summer. Photo courtesy of Educare Central Maine

Located on Drummond Avenue and connected to George J. Mitchell School via a walkway, Educare is one of 25 Educares in the country, having been the 12th one, built 13 years ago. The Waterville program operates on about $6 million a year.

Kennebec Valley Community Action Program is the nonprofit operating partner for Educare and partners with Waterville Public Schools, which considers Educare its preschool, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund and the Bill & Joan Alfond Foundation. Funding also comes from Head Start, and corporate and individual donations. Children are enrolled regardless of income.

Tracye Fortin, chief operating officer for KVCAP’s Children & Family Services, as well as Educare, said the program is in high demand and has 100 children on its waiting list, with three-quarters of those children infants and toddlers. When Educare first opened, 200 children were enrolled and now there are 216. She said more and more families need the care and services offered, and officials have considered expanding the facility.

Educare, she said, influences local, state and national public policy. An early childhood education program being planned for the new elementary school in Skowhegan was influenced by the Educare model, according to Fortin.

Bill and Joan Alfond were anchor donors for Educare Central Maine when it opened and attended Thursday’s fundraiser.

Bill Alfond said the ultimate goal of Educare nationally is to show that public school systems should begin children’s education earlier, at about 6 weeks old, as is typical in many other countries. And children should be afforded that opportunity regardless of circumstances, according to Alfond.


“We want everyone — to use a sports analogy — to start school with an even playing field,” he said.

Alfond said the elementary school in Skowhegan will be the first public school to have an attached early childhood wing for children up to age 5.

Meanwhile, a lack of child care options remains a pressing problem for many families in central Maine but Educare works to be a leading resource for them, according to Fortin.

“Early care and education is a part of a healthy economy,” Fortin said last week. “The issue is that many parents can’t afford to pay for high-quality care. And many employees are not making a very high salary.” 

While the coronavirus pandemic brought attention to a lack of broad quality child care, the problem was present prior to COVID-19, she said. 

“That’s one of the biggest messages that those of us in the field want to make,” said Rhonda Kaiser, program director of the Educare school. “There was a crisis happening prior to the pandemic. The accelerated loss of family child care homes really brought it to light.”


Educare employs 60 staff members, including teachers, family service professionals, cooks and maintenance workers. While Educare prioritizes Waterville families, children also come from neighboring towns. 

“Educare is a second home for my family,” said Mary-Gene Rumery, 44, who has two children enrolled. “They really envelop the entire family. Every single one of the employees there touches our child’s life in some way.” 

Educare works with researchers to measure the success of its programs while implementing new components. A recent evaluation found that third-grade students at the George J. Mitchell School who attended Educare were scoring on par or higher than their peers, according to officials. 

Administrators also focus on professional development for employees. By partnering with higher education institutions such as Kennebec Valley Community College, staff members get the chance to seek new opportunities and further their education.

Gov. Janet Mills’ administration last year announced a $15 million investment meant to expand child care offerings in the state. The money also included a $200 monthly salary supplement for child care workers in licensed care centers. 

“It’s a starting point,” Fortin said. ”And putting a tiered system into place is helping the field be able to have workers increase their salaries.”

Waterville Public Schools Superintendent Peter Hallen, who attended Isaacs fundraiser, said he hopes people realize how lucky Waterville is to have Educare.

“There’s so much learning that happens before a child reaches the age where they can go to kindergarten and it’s there that you can see the disparity between children who grew up in supportive environments that had opportunities for social interaction,” he said. “We just live in a time where not all students have the same level of opportunity. That’s where Educare steps in and makes sure that they do.”

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