Sweatt-Winter Child Care Center celebrates new, expanded facility with special guests

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“I met with 4 wonderful people who usually are working here, which leads me to question, who is watching the children?” joked Senator Collins as she took the podium.

FARMINGTON – “This has been a labor of love for a lot of people,” representatives of the University of Maine System said, with regards to the Sweatt-Winter Child Care Center at the University of Maine at Farmington. The center formally inaugurated its new, larger building and outdoor area with a ribbon cutting on Wednesday, March 27, with special guests Governor Mills and Senator Collins.

The Sweatt-Winter Child Care Center was first established in 1975 as a community daycare program in a collaboration between UMF and Western Maine Community Action Council, but has been managed solely by UMF for the past 20 years, said UMF president Joseph McDonnell in his opening remarks at the ceremony.

While the facility has previously been housed in a smaller facility on campus, this new location has allowed for significant expansion, not only for the daycare facility, but also for the educational opportunities it provides for UMF students who are studying early childhood education.

This expansion is largely due to government funds provided by a combination of Governor Mills’ Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, and congressional spending fought for by Senator Collins. “It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes dedicated & concerned public officials to secure the funds to allow that village to create facilities and programs to educate our children,” said McDonnell.

Governor Mills spoke next, explaining how her Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan had helped bring this about by investing $1 million in the Sweatt-Winter Child Care Center, along with other things.

“We all know the history of this piece of real estate, especially those of us who grew up around here,” said Mills, reminiscing about when it was the Butler house, the “white house on campus,” and various call centers. “Now I think it’s found its permanent niche in the neighborhood, and serving a purpose that benefits all of Maine,” said Mills.


The outdoor space is used in all different weather, with kids spending time playing, sitting on the benches to unwind, or learning about things like frost and mud.


“Not only do parents need to have childcare to go to work, but they need the peace of mind that, while they’re working or traveling or doing things, their children can learn and grow in a safe and nurturing place, especially during those early, formative years when we know the brain is developing.”

Because the center is used both for childcare and as a place to give UMF’s early childhood students hands-on experience, the larger capacity will not only increase the amount of families served, it is also expected to increase enrollment of early childhood students by 20%.

Senator Collins took the podium next, speaking of other ribbon cuttings she had attended in that building as it served as different call centers. Though she said she was happy to celebrate those call center jobs, she added, “In today’s environment I can’t think of anything that creates more jobs than a child center that allows parents to go to their jobs.”

Collins identified what she called “three dividends” that the new childcare center would provide: quality child care to help kids be ready for school, promotion of economic development by allowing parents to work or pursue higher education, and allowing early childhood enrollment at UMF to increase.

When a baby could be heard crying in the next room near the end of Collins’s speech, she jokingly said, “Well, they’re telling me to conclude,” before wrapping up.

Additional speakers included Sweatt-Winter Child Care Center director Erica Thompson, UMF co-provost Dean Kathy Yardley, and UMF seniors Violette Beulieu and Bre Maxim.


UMF senior Violette Beulieu speaks while Senator Susan Collins, UMF senior Bre Maxim, and Governor Janet Mills look on.


Thompson, a UMF 2015 alumna, spoke of the importance of the space as it has been designed to allow kids to feel welcome, with dedicated classrooms, a multipurpose area, and outdoor space that they use in all different kinds of weather. She expressed eagerness for further expansion, including community events, such as a parent-and-child yoga night they recently held, and an upcoming clothing drive.

Yardley spoke of the educational benefits to students that the observation rooms provide. Those rooms allow visual observation both through one-way mirrors and two different camera angles, allowing observing students to unobtrusively learn about child care without disrupting the children’s schedules.

As a UMF student, Beulieu has experienced working with the children in the smaller space previously, and the transition to the larger space, and was very excited about the benefits of having more space. She also explained that each classroom’s doorway has a particular shape around it, which is used as a small alcove shape within that classroom, so that children and staff alike can easily visually identify which room they’re in, helping keep young children oriented in their surroundings.

Maxim had previously not had a lot of experience with children younger than preschool age and was nervous about them, so she appreciated the larger space and greater opportunities to work with a variety of children that came with the new center, and the greater confidence this gave her in working with them. She also appreciated the ways she was able to practice and learn about using outdoor spaces as educational environments.

Finally, UMS Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives Carolyn Dorsey spoke on behalf of Chancellor Malloy, conveying his regrets that he was unable to attend and adding the gratitude of the University of Maine System to the other thanks that had been expressed throughout the proceedings.

Once the speeches were done, it was time for cutting the ribbon, which was done in a way both unique and befitting a child care center. Children had drawn pictures on a long white paper ribbon, and with Governor Mills and Senator Collins holding each end of the ribbon, 4 year olds Gordon Bell and Henry Schoeppner cut the ribbon. Bell then ran one end of the ribbon around the room in his excitement, pausing to strike several “superhero poses” for the cameras.


Preparing to cut the ribbon! Front, left to right: Representative Scott Landry of Farmington, Governor Janet Mills, Director Erica Thompson, student Henry Schoeppner (age 4), UMF senior Violette Beulieu, student Gordon Bell (age 4), Senator Susan Collins, UMF President Joseph McDonnell. Back, left to right: Bobbi Johnson, director of the state Office of Child and Family Services within Maine DHHS; UMS Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives Carolyn Dorsey.


Before departing, Mills and Collins received bags of UMF education department products, which had Governor Mills delighted as she cheered, “Swag!” They both promptly pulled their new hats out of the tote bags and put them on.

The new facility includes numerous expanding benefits over the previously smaller housing. There is a teacher area where UMF students have their own lockers, which weren’t available for teachers before. The homey entryway, complete with comfortable couch, is designed to help students and parents feel at ease as they enter the building, and future plans include adding digital photos that rotate between pictures of the children at the school, as well as staff pictures. The kitchen is larger, with plenty of space for the adults working, as well as a small sink and counter for teachers to bring children in for fun cooking projects such as making muffins.

The parents’ nursing room offers a private space for parents who need to nurse or pump before drop-off or after pick-up, and doubles as a conference room for parent conferences, meetings regarding children with IEPs, and more.

The two observation rooms are each located between two classrooms, so that the students can observe two separate rooms without having to relocate. The multipurpose space, which is centrally located rather like a wide hallway, provides plenty of space for running around as well as a children’s seating area for children who need a break or would prefer a quieter activity.

“I like the diversity of it,” said student Michelle Ladd, while giving a tour around the building. “You have the open space [for play] but you also have the seating so you can pull out arts and crafts for kids who don’t want to do that.”

The Sweatt-Winter Child Care Center is not yet fully staffed. Job listings to work there can be found at umf.hiretouch.com. As of this article’s publish date, there are presently four job openings at Sweatt-Winter located on that site.


Governor Janet Mills, Gordon Bell, Bre Maxim, Henry Schoeppner, Violette Beulieu, and Senator Susan Collins, examining the pictures children of the child care center had drawn on the ribbon in preparation of the cutting.


Each classroom has a shape around the door, and the same shape to a small alcove/“corridor” helps both teachers and students stay oriented with remembering which room they’re in. Similarly, each alcove has the same wallpaper as the room’s corresponding bathroom.


Governor Mills and Senator Collins exchange a few words outside the child care center before departing for other engagements.
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