By Rebecca Dravis
07:06AM / Sunday, March 01, 2020
President and CEO Anne Nemetz-Carlson speaks at the annual meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Child Care of the Berkshires could be celebrating the milestone of its 50th anniversary by looking back at what the agency has accomplished over the last half-century.
Instead, it's looking forward — particularly to the completion of renovations to its home, the Sarah T. Haskins School in North Adams.
At the agency's annual meeting on Feb. 25 at the Williams Inn, Liz Costley, chairman of the board of directors, said $1.8 million has been raised for the renovations to "transform" the building into the "bright, clean and safe space that our children, our families and our staff deserve." Many of those donors were in attendance at the meeting, and Costley had grateful words for them.
"You believed in us. You invested in us. You will be thrilled with the results," she said.
Improvements include the installation of an exterior elevator, replacement of classroom doors, accessible bathrooms, a fire suppression system and a contemporary security system. In addition to classrooms and play space, the Haskins Center also houses the Family Center and the offices of the Family Child Care System, the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, the Early Literary Program and accounting and administration.
These renovations, Costley said, represent an investment in early education, which experts have identified as vitally important for children, leading to higher high school graduation rates, higher earnings and better health and wellness outcomes in the future.
"We speaks for the most vulnerable children and families? We do," she said. "The future of Child Care of the Berkshires looks bright. (CCB) is proof that we are so much stronger when we work together."
Still, even with a new building, policy changes need to be implemented to further assist children and families, she said.
To that end, attending the annual meeting -- which followed a day of tours and talks -- was Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, the commissioner of the state Department of Early Education and Care. Aigner-Treworgy introduced herself to the annual meeting attendee, explaining how she grew up in Massachusetts, always knew she was interested in early childhood education and was thrilled to be able to return to the Bay State last summer to take this position.
"I care deeply about the early childhood program," she said, explaining that while Massachusetts has been and continues to be a leader in the field of early childhood education, there are some systemic issues that she hopes to be able to address in her new position. A new strategic planning document will be made public in a couple weeks, she said, which she sees as an "opportunity to be an innovative leader for he country."
Aigner-Treworgy said she was fully supportive of the Haskins Center renovations and knows the impact they will have on the families served by Child Care of the Berkshires.
"To realize the beautiful potential the child has, you need a beautiful facility," she said.
And along with appropriate facilities, she said it's important that the staff guiding these young children be appropriately trained and compensated with living wages and education and advancement opportunities. In a way, she said, early child development is more about the adults around the children.
"Children are pre-programmed to ask for that kind of development," she said. "It's our job to make sure we're fostering that."
And that's what President and CEO Anne Nemetz-Carlson said Child Care of the Berkshires always has been about in its 50 years. While they are looking forward to the new building, she said she couldn't resist take a quick look back at how the organization came to be.
In 1967, a group of Methodists saw a need for preschool opportunities in North County. It took them two years to get up and running, and in 1969 the first classroom opened with five teachers.
"These people who organized were visionaries," she said.
From there, they were able to expand and gain support from agencies that are still around and supporting CCB today -- like the Northern Berkshire United Way and the Williamstown Community Chest. When Haskins School closed, they were able to negotiate with the city to use that space, which now they are truly making their own with these renovations.
Nemetz-Carlson said she knows the words being used to describe what the new building will be like include "safe" and "accessible" but she likes other descriptions.
"I say inviting, warm," she said. "It's pretty exciting what's going on."