Island life doesn’t always afford the same amenities and services that mainlanders often take for granted. Affordable and reliable childcare is one of those.

So when several new and expecting Vinalhaven mothers saw a need, they did something about it. Island Village Childcare (IVC) opened its doors in September 2008 and marked its first anniversary last month.

“In 2007 it became apparent to a number of mothers on Vinalhaven that if we wanted to continue our careers we needed to feel good about our plan for our children during the day,” said Head Teacher Susan Raven. “That began brainstorms about the feasibility of creating a childcare business. After looking at various locations, talking to families, gathering donations and getting the word out, we opened in September 2008.” According to Amanda Philbrook, IVC board chairperson, “The community generously donated 99 percent of the materials” to get the center started.

“IVC is by moms, for moms,” said Raven. “Moms like myself who believed we needed a childcare and could create one, are now working there, other moms bring their children so they can continue working, some moms volunteer and others are on our board of directors.”

Island Village Childcare is a state licensed childcare facility. As such, it accepts the ASPIRE program, a state program that covers childcare expenses for those on welfare so that they may get a job or do volunteer work.  “We are fortunate that we can serve people who otherwise couldn’t afford in-house childcare,” said Philbrook. The center is housed in a privately owned building, known locally as the Yellow Schoolhouse, as it was a public school until the early 20th century.

IVC employs three teachers who, on an average day, see 12 children, all from different families. A total of 27 children are enrolled. “Our enrollment fluctuates a lot over the course of a day or a week as some children come for full days, and some for only a few hours. Also some come every day, some only certain days of the week, and some children are dropped off from time to time as their families need IVC’s services,” said Raven.

According to Raven, a typical day at IVC begins at 7:30 am. “Children start arriving and waving goodbye to parents out the window,” she said. The morning routine includes learning centers, morning music time and independent play, art time and dramatic play followed by snack. “We play outside for about an hour each morning, weather permitting,” she said. Afternoons often include walks in strollers and more outdoor time. On Fridays, IVC welcomes guest readers who come to share favorite stories.

The first year of operation was fraught with struggles, mainly financial, according to Philbrook. “Tuition pays payroll and rent, but we need extra money for fuel, licensing fees, insurance and supplies,” she said. To cover those costs, IVC board members and parents hold fundraisers throughout the year. They recently held a raffle for a donated wooden swing set. Proceeds from that fundraiser will go toward paying the state licensing fee, liability insurance, workers compensation and the phone bill, which total over $1300. The board has talked about raising tuition, but is adamant about keeping it reasonable. Despite the low rates “it really is a lot of money for people who use [IVC a lot] and need it,” said Philbrook.

To help alleviate some of the financial strain, IVC is set to apply for nonprofit status. With nonprofit status, donations to IVC would be tax-deductible, and IVC would become eligible to receive grants. The one thing delaying the application is the $750 application fee. Philbrook expected that another fundraiser would have to be held to raise the money for this fee.

Joining IVC this fall will be Rebecca Graham, an Island Institute Fellow (the Island Institute publishes this newspaper).

According to Philbrook, Graham’s first several weeks will be spent at the facility getting a feel for how it operates and what its needs are. Graham will then research and find appropriate grants and help IVC apply for them. Philbrook hopes nonprofit status, and then grant money, will help improve IVC’s services in the coming year.

The first year at IVC was not all about struggles; there were successes too. “We worked out about 300 bugs last year,” said Philbrook. From a teacher’s perspective, Raven said “the staff sees small success all the time in the development of children’s language skills, the positive social interactions, the improvement of physical skills and artistic expression. From a business standpoint a recent success was the completion of our logo.” Raven and Philbrook both counted the addition of an Island Institute fellow as a major step.

Besides finalizing their nonprofit status, the staff at Island Village Childcare have several goals for the coming year, including updating their Web site, distributing a monthly newsletter and increasing volunteer involvement.

A special goal is to decide the best way to use a generous donation made to IVC last year. The donation was made in memory of Noah Thompson, a young child who died unexpectedly on Vinalhaven last winter. While the family of Noah Thompson is anxious to know how the childcare center will spend the money, Philbrook emphasized that they wanted to take their time to find the best way to honor the boy.

Kris Osgood is a freelance writer who lives on Vinalhaven.