Two early childhood education program owners in Williston have been recognized by Let’s Grow Kids as “early childhood superheroes” for their work advocating for Vermont’s youngest children.
Paula Nadeau is the owner of Tiny Dreamers on North Williston Road, and Trisha Scharf is the executive director of Children Unlimited on Dorset Lane. Both have become outspoken advocates for Vermont’s youngest children.
They were among five Vermonters recognized following a statewide call for nominations of people who have gone “above and beyond to help young children reach their full potential,” according to a press release from Let’s Grow Kids, which is an initiative of the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children.
Nadeau opened Tiny Dreamers two years ago. Scharf has been in the early childhood field for 30 years. Both said they struggle to attract and retain qualified staff because Vermont child care workers don’t earn a livable wage.
The two partnered to help plan a “Rally for Kids” at the Statehouse in March to ask legislators to increase investments in high-quality, affordable child care.
“I didn’t know that I could accomplish so much so quickly as an advocate,” said Nadeau, who spoke at the rally.
Scharf also spoke at the event. She told lawmakers about parents with children in her program asking when they should start trying to get pregnant with a second child because they know infant spaces are non-existent.
“It breaks my heart when I have to turn families away because I don’t have space for their children. Unfortunately, it’s an everyday occurrence,” she said.
Nadeau talked about her family’s struggle to afford full-time preschool. Even though they struggle to make ends meet, her family doesn’t qualify for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP), which provides tuition assistance for families making 300 percent of the federal poverty level or less.
Families who do receive benefits are still paying up to 40 percent of their income on child care, according to Let’s Grow Kids. The rates CCFAP pays to child care providers on behalf of eligible families are based on what providers were charging in 2008 and 2009 — not their current costs, the press release says.
“Vermont needs to start investing more in our kids, and this is something ‘Early Childhood Superheroes’ understand,” said Let’s Grow Kids Campaign Director Robyn Freedner-Maguire. “Early childhood professionals like Paula and Trisha play an absolutely critical role in giving Vermont’s kids a strong start. They’re not only working every day to provide the highest quality care possible in their own programs, they’re also volunteering their time to advocate for a more affordable early care and learning system that can meet the needs of all children and families.”
Other Vermonters selected for this round of superheroes include: Hope Campbell of Barnet, director of child care programs at Vermont Community Loan Fund; Kristin Lange of Rutland, lead teacher for Rutland Head Start; and Anne Latulippe of Duxbury, executive director of the Children’s Room in Waterbury.
Let’s Grow Kids continues to seek nominations to join the ranks of Early Childhood Superheroes through an online nomination form at letsgrowkids.org/nominate-superhero.