An enthusiastic crowd of more than 50 people gathered for the dedication of the new Mid-Shore Early Learning Center (MSELC) on Saturday, January 21 in its new home on Port Street.
Dr. Karen Salmon, retired Maryland State Superintendent of Schools, delivered keynote remarks during the ceremony that honored
beloved educators and caregivers Leah Thornton Lozano, Harriett and Eric Lowery, Vickie Wilson, as well as generous benefactors – the Dock Street Foundation, the Grayce B. Kerr Fund, and William Ryan.
Located at 222 Port Street in Easton, MSELC is a small non-profit childcare center focused on preparing students for future academic
achievement and the only organization in Talbot County caring for infants six weeks or older in an inclusive, enriching, and diverse environment. Full enrollment at the Center is 47 children.
“There is nothing more important in education today than what we do for our children,” Dr. Salmon said. “The most critical time for brain development is before kindergarten; it starts here prenatally, and healthy development and learning for children continues from birth through age five, she added. “Quality experiences are really important for our young children; they lead to less remediation, retentions,
and higher graduation rates.
“What you have accomplished here is nothing short of absolutely amazing,” she commented, in part. “Ultimately, this new center will have a transformational effect on our community.”
During the ceremony, MSELC Dr. President James Bell, Jr. led the dedication of three rooms made possible by generous donations by William Ryan and the Dock Street Foundation – the Harriett and Eric Lowery Preschool Area, the Leah Thornton Lozano Infants & Toddlers Room, and the Vickie Wilson Conference Room.
According to Dr. Bell, MSELC first opened as Shore Regional Child Development Center in June, 1990 by Easton Memorial Hospital with space dedicated to childcare for infants, toddlers, preschool and summer day care for children of hospital employees. In 2013 when many companies were forced to take cost-cutting measures, Shore Regional Health (SRH) made the difficult decision to close the Center, which
would have forced staff to lose their job and parents to lose childcare opportunities already in short supply in Talbot County, he explained.
“Realizing what this decision meant for all involved, a small group of parents organized to save the center,” he continued. Their first step was to meet with Kenneth D. Kozel, SRH CEO, and his team, to discuss ways to keep the center open. The proposal was simple – allow a group of parents with no experience operating a daycare center to take over operations and turn a financially struggling entity into a profitable one.
Kozel consulted with his team and to the surprise of the parent group, granted them six months to form a business and assume operation of the center. With the help of Buck Duncan and the staff at the Mid- Shore Community Foundation, the parents quickly created a 501©3 non-profit organization, Mid-Shore Early Learning Center, incorporated on October 2, 2013.
The parent group formed a Board of Directors to oversee operations, led by Dr. Bell, an educator, and parent and grandparent of children who attended the center. They negotiated a three-year employee lease agreement with SRH, as well as a five-year lease agreement for center at a cost of one dollar per year.
On March 1, 2014, the MSELC Board of Directors officially assumed operation of the former Shore Regional Child Development Center with most of the existing staff.
“Rebuilding and rebranding the childcare center was difficult, and often we found ourselves close to suffering the same fate as the Shore Regional Child Development Center,” said Dr. Bell. “However, we found an organization and a friend of the center who helped us avoid that fate.”
The Grayce B. Kerr Fund, Inc. stepped in, providing a $150,000 grant that allowed MSELC more time to become financially viable, he said.
Their generous financial support enabled the center to become solvent operationally and not only survive, but thrive, Bell added.
“Today, MSELC is just $175,000 away from owning the facility with no mortgage,” Bell concluded.
The new center features dedicated learning spaces by age, and a kitchen. Future plans call for the addition of interactive and enriching computer facilities, a playground, purchase of a bus for special programs, and the creation of an endowment to sustain enrichment programs.
During the dedication ceremony, Dr. Bell not only recognized the generous donors who made the new center possible but also thanked the long-serving staff who work tirelessly to provide the best possible care: Nai’Ema Pierce – one year, Tynedra Murphy – two years, Mariah Lampkin – six years, Florence Wilson – nine years, Kristin Todd – 14 years, Sarah Mickey – 21 years, Kim Hutchins – 33 years, Frances Shorter – 34 years, Rana Sankovich – 35 years, Charlene Copper-Pierce (Center Director) – 26 years; and Clarretta Kellum – 31 years; now retired, she returned as a part-time/substitute on an as-needed basis.
The Center staff and Board are grateful to the sponsors of the Celebration and Dedication ceremony: Grayce B. Kerr Fund, Inc., Hair O’ the Dog Wine and Spirits, and Piazza Italian Market.