It’s Official: Y Closes Early Learning Program

Last November, the Westport Family Y warned that if a suitable site was not found by January 1, its much-heralded Early Learning Program would close.

YMCA logoBecause a child care wing at the new Mahackeno facility is slated for Phase 2 at the new Mahackeno facility, for which no official timetable has been set, Y officials searched for an alternate site. Parents of the approximately 100 children — ages 6 weeks to 6 years — were devastated that the program’s engaging curriculum and community engagement would end. They were saddened too that staff members — some of whom were with the program for over 16 years — would lose their jobs.

Today the Y sent a letter to ELP parents. CEO Rob Reeves and child care senior director Tasha Dennison said that they were extending the service from June 30 to August 29.

However, that is the final day of the Early Learning Program.

The letter said:

Due to the complexities involved with establishing a new Child Care facility at our Mahackeno campus — approvals, public meetings, permitting, designs, site preparation and construction — we will not be able to complete this process in time to avoid an interruption in service. Therefore, Tasha and I, as well as the volunteer leaders who guide the Y’s operations, have had to make this unfortunate decision.

In an accompanying email, Reeves wrote:

Our staff have been touched by the feedback you’ve shared regarding the quality of our program which will be difficult for many of you to match. We remain committed to the care of your children and I want to personally thank Tasha and all her staff who have agreed to continue providing the love and care for your children until the last child leaves our care in August.

In my over 34 years of working for the YMCA, I have not worked with a more dedicated and caring group of teachers and care givers than what we have here at the Family Y and I’ll do all we possibly can to assist them in finding their next place of employment.

Quality day care is never easy to find. Today, dozens of parents begin looking for a program with the same dedication, care and love that they’ve lost.

An exterior view of the new YMCA at Mahackeno.

An exterior view of the new YMCA at Mahackeno.

22 responses to “It’s Official: Y Closes Early Learning Program

  1. This is sad news for these families I’m sure. I would urger those looking for an excellent, caring preschool replacement to look at the Saugatuck Nursery School (has after school, and serves diverse ages and needs.) It’s location for over 40 years–Saugatuck Congregational Church; after the fire they have been welcomed and have alternative space until repairs are finished. It is a wonderful school. I taught creative dramatics for a year, and my mother, Florence James, was one of the founders of the school.

  2. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Depending on annual student population, some elementary schools where I live will rent out an unused classroom(s) to preschool programs.

  3. We definitely do not have unused classsrooms here.

  4. Elizabeth Thibault

    This is indeed a sad day for all the impacted children and families. Attrition has shrunk the program from the highs previously seen, with about 30 families being forced to identify alternative spots for their children. There is a dearth of NAEYC accredited programs in Westport with FULL TIME care, (because not all parents are able to have a stay-at-home parent, as much as we would all like.)
    The STAFF of the Early Learning Program at the Y have served our children wonderfully, providing a caring and loving environment, offering enriching programs that develop and stimulate the minds and bodies of our children. The STAFF of the other centers at the Y have provided the most supportive and challenging programs to develop the skills of our children.

    I’m beyond disappointed that Rob Reeves and the board of directors couldn’t find a suitable alternative location for this program, ESPECIALLY considering the program operates at a 30% margin. It’s stupefying that there wasn’t a plan to accommodate childcare in the new facilities when it was being scaled back, considering the financials that the Y continues to find itself in. My disappointment in the administration is only matched by my gratitude to the staff, all of whom we will miss when the program doors are shuttered later this year.

  5. So let’s see. I guess a zero sum gain or less. Y could have moved to Barons South and benefitted so many, or now the idea of so called senior housing for a few. And potentially some that do not live in Westport. Was it all worth it? Did we lose a real opportunity? The Y could not move there do to size or something like that, yet somehow we now allow the housing and all the building. Probably all these young families do not know of this.

    Sorry to learn at least 100 children will be effected. Maybe it did not have to happen.

    Will he get his name on the building instead?

  6. Werner Liepolt

    What a sad diminution.
    Things like this don”t happen by mistake.

  7. What horrific planning by the Y. It truly is shameful.

  8. Remember how much mileage the Y got for backing their move by promoting themselves as a “good citizen” that provided a childcare service that was important to the community? They scaled back their building plan a long time ago so it would seem obvious that they knew they were going to close the child care facility and they still used the children as leverage. Actually, the word “hostage” is more like it, since they explicitly threatened to fold up, including the child care service, if they didn’t get their way. I was in several of their meetings with the town over the years and this behavior was fairly common behind closed doors. In the end, the children were expendable and clearly used as a negotiating tactic, which any hardball strategist would do. I am sure we’ll get another, “Nothing we can do, we tried so hard.” letter from the Y. Again, I was in many meetings where the Y acted completely opposite of their PR, and what I think their mission should be- Chris Woods

  9. I hope this is the only ‘disappointment’ of the new Y. Unfortunately, a HUGE one.

  10. Isabelle Isafan

    Why does everyone keep harping on the Baron’s South, the TOWN said no to the ‘Y’ way back during the Farrell administration.
    What else are they supposed to do?

    • That is true that back several years that town (through a “deal” made by a single constituent) that the Town wrote a text amendment on the use of space. But it was offered several times to reopen that and the Y would say, “we’ll work on that” and come back to the next meeting stone-faced and non-responsive. We had maps out of both Winslow and Baron’s South and talked about many different site opportunities and combinations with the Sr. Center and a Teen center. Many offers were made and there was clearly the political will to reopen the dialog. This happened several times; I was in the meetings. There was zero interest from the Y on any alternatives.

      I can see that perhaps the Y felt they didn’t want to reopen the dialog because they thought it would go no where. But the situation had changed dramatically since the Farrell deal. And there were clearly options which didn’t necessitate the very unfriendly, hard line they took against people trying to make it happen. The hard line clearly backfired by alienating many who would have been donors when it came to fund raising, resulting in a scaled-back facility.

      At the same time, it was obvious to many that the Y had designs on becoming a regional Y, adding the membership of the faltering Norwalk Y and attracting the smaller Fairfield Y’s members by moving to a more “regional” location off the parkway.Every other Y director knew this was their plan, but no one talked about it in Westport.

      If anyone knows the slightest bit about how the P&Z operates in Westport, read the many different options offered by well-meaning community members trying to advance a vision of a true “community Y” (children, teens, Sr.’s and rec programs) and compares that to the bad attitude (and now obvious bad-faith) approach of the Y, they can see that the game was different than the Y made everyone think. They could have had an in-town Y if they wanted. They wanted a regional Y and they used all sorts of excuses, threats and hostilities to that end.

      Now we have a much-reduced, out of town facility (while competition has sprung up everywhere), the Sr. center wants (and should have) a pool, even though it is only for daytime use), Baron’s South goes for housing non-Westporters, teens have no better facility, and we have some weird laser over Main Street (really, what the heck is that thing?), and they Y jettisons their childcare mission.

      I’m not saying it is easy for people to come together (my parents were major components of a Y project in another town 50 years ago and faced all the issues that every Y faces regarding NIMBY), but c’mon, this was a no-brainer that the Y could have done with a lot less effort than it took them to fight their own town. The only way the town lost all these opportunities is because the Y wanted to be a regional facility, and not a Westport Y like everyone else was thinking.

      Chris Woods

      • Why did the town offer the text amendment? In doing so, the town revealed its preference.

        Who will pay for a pool at the senior center? Private donors?

      • I really appreciate you taking the time to write this history. My family has been in Westport for over 64 years; I grew up at the Y and was a supporter of the Y staying in the downtown area. It serves birth to grave–a LARGE amount of people. My family’s home was in the Mahakeno area (where my brothers went to camp, I learned to swim and my daughter attended the coed camp decades later. I think it was reprehensible to bring the REGIONAL Y to a residential neighborhood–and it greatly impacted the families, traffic, HOMES, and SALE OF HOMES in the Mahakeno area. In 10 years the big Y being in the area MAY be an asset but NOT NOW…and I attended some of the meetings. I found the PRO Y AT MAHAKENO people intimidating, and whatever happened to NOT keep this facility for all DOWNTOWN–for my sensibilities, a great ERROR. But the previous post(s) of “poor reasonable YMCA so wronged” in sentiment offended!

        • Melody – there is not now, nor has there ever been, a REGIONAL Y planned or built at Mahackeno. You might want to check out the CORRECTED HISTORY below.

  11. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Sounds like a soap opera with a lot of red tape attached.
    Why is blame in the forefront and solution behind? My Staples tuition grant payment may go on hold until people begin to smarten up.

  12. The town – beginning with Diane – but continuing with Gordon – completely F’d over the Y. Chris Woods can spew some revisionist history, but the truth is that the town made it very clear that they didn’t want a private organization to occupy public space.

    Somehow that doesn’t apply for Senior Housing – Gordon’s pet project. And I’m sure it won’t apply when the WAC wants to tear up Jesup Green either.

    So for whatever reasons – either political, or personal, or perhaps the “C” in YMCA got in the way – the Y is now mostly built at Mahackeno and we’ll all have to deal with the positives and negatives that come along with it.

    Child Care will eventually come to the YMCA – maybe even next year – but in order to give parents time to react they had to be forewarned early and they were.

    You know not everyone can have everything that they want in the new facility on Day One. The Y relies 100% on private contributions and as they trickle in priorities are set. The swimming crowd did a nice job digging deep to protect their interests, apparently the gymnasts did not. Hopefully, maybe someday it will all be there – but don’t bemoan a bunch of tirelessly working people who got zero help from this town as they try to write their next chapter.

    • My apologies for making it seem that the entire town was for working with the Y. Obviously there were a few key players who did not want the Y on Winslow or Baron’s (and put in the fix in  several areas, like hijacking the Town Plan for Conservation and Development at the last minute. But there were many people, including the Long Range Planning Commitee and two ad hoc citizens committees that wanted to help, and the Y was actually hostile to them. Chris Woods

    • Let’s also remember the town said the land was too difficult to allow the Y to be built at Barons South. That was one of the reasons they had to look elsewhere.

      Funny how the land is all ok for Gordan’s pet project. Will his name be on the building…:):)

  13. Isabelle Isafan

    Yes, the WAC wanting a facility on Jessup Green…that’s a grenade just waiting to have the pin pulled!!

  14. Carousel Daycare and Nursery just over the border in Norwalk is excellent and NAEYC accredited.