Seedlings to Sunflowers, a start-up nonprofit childcare center in Gorham, broke ground on its new facility on Friday, November 10, 2017. Friends Marissa Ritz and Meghann Carrasco were both consumers of the childcare industry. After navigating waitlists, high teacher turnover, less than ideal curriculums and the lack of collaboration between centers and parents, they both were left wanting more for their children.
Their passion for educating children was the seed to envisioning the childcare center. “Our goal is to be more than a daycare. For that reason we have labeled ourselves as a childcare and family center,” said Ritz. “As a licensed clinical social worker, I have spent the last decade seeing the impact of the disconnection of families and community/education centers. Our goal is to bridge this gap and to focus on building connections in our community.” Both bring to the startup professional experience and commitment to support the emotional, social and developmental needs of the children, strengthen the relationship between teachers and caregivers, and create a space where children can become active members of their communities.
The woman-owned and operated non-profit childcare center will offer voucher slots to low-income families and a sliding scale pricing structure. The organization will offer childcare and education for children aged 6 weeks to 5 years, as well as after school programs for children aged 5 to 10 years. Programming will include a STEAM-based curriculum and a greenhouse garden-to-table educational program. An adjacent 16 by 20 foot greenhouse will allow year-round outside time.
“Beyond providing a much-needed service to families, we are excited to help grow the workforce in our area. A goal of the school is to help take a demographic of professionals who are often underpaid and living without benefits and work, and provide the compensation they deserve. Additionally, one of our focus points is to teach community stewardship. We are looking forward to spearheading causes in the Greater Portland area that are consistent with our mission,” said Ritz.
Due to the startup nature of the business, Seedlings to Sunflowers was challenged to find the significant capital needed for the construction of the new 5,300 square foot childcare center. CEI stepped forward with $1.495 million in loan financing from the USDA Community Facilities program and TD Bank. The financing will help with land acquisition, construction, and development of the facility. CEI is also providing workforce assistance to help Seedlings to Sunflowers reach its goal of creating quality jobs and hiring 50 percent of its employees from low to moderate income backgrounds.
“CEI supported us in taking our dream and making it a reality,” said Ritz. “Throughout the process they have helped to guide us and have encouraged us to get clear about our goals. We could not have done this without the financial support, but really, their mentoring has been priceless.”
“Seedlings to Sunflowers is just the kind of business CEI exists to support,” said Daniel Wallace, CEI Loan and Investment Officer, “What stands out is the incredible passion, drive, and capacity of its two co-founders, Marissa and Meghann, to respond to the need for daycare for all members of their community. In addition, Seedlings is committed to providing compelling wrap around programming, including a STEAM-based curriculum and on-site greenhouse, while simultaneously creating quality jobs for their employees.”
The facility opened in June 2018.