Smugglers' Notch Will Offer Free Childcare to Employees' Families | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Smugglers' Notch Will Offer Free Childcare to Employees' Families


Published May 5, 2022 at 5:33 p.m.
Updated June 7, 2022 at 4:47 p.m.

Children in the Smugglers' Notch childcare center - SMUGGLERS' NOTCH
  • Smugglers' Notch
  • Children in the Smugglers' Notch childcare center
The Smuggler’s Notch resort will soon offer free childcare and camp slots for its workers' children in a bid to attract more job applicants.

The resort's childcare program has space for 70 children. But it has had to limit its enrollment to just 22 because the resort can’t find enough childcare workers, said Harley Johnson, director of children’s programs. She said she’s already been able to bring on a few more childcare workers because of the new childcare benefit, which starts May 16; she expects to hire more.

“I’ve found over the years that for a lot of applicants, it’s been a barrier for them to come into the workforce if they have young children because their whole paycheck is going into childcare,” Johnson said Thursday. “We’re eliminating that barrier for them.”

Finding affordable childcare is one of the biggest obstacles to work for many Vermont parents. State lawmakers, business groups and others have been trying to come up with ways to make childcare more affordable and accessible, but so far they have largely come up short.

Let’s Grow Kids, formed in 2000 to tackle the childcare shortage, says middle-income families with two parents and two young children spend more than 40 percent of their income on childcare, or about $20,000 a year.
Let’s Grow Kids held an event April 27 on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse to draw attention to the problem and call for a publicly funded childcare system. Mark Foley, CEO of Foley Services in Rutland, compared childcare to infrastructure such as roads, bridges and broadband.
The Smugglers' Notch child carecenter - SMUGGLERS' NOTCH
  • Smugglers' Notch
  • The Smugglers' Notch child carecenter
Women are disproportionately affected by the lack of childcare, said Sascha Mayer, a board member of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and the co-founder and CEO of the Burlington company Mamava.

“It’s women who, when the pandemic hit and their children were home, had to leave their jobs to care for their families,” Mayer said at an event in February. “If universal childcare was available to them, the economic impacts of the pandemic would look very different.”

It's not an easy problem to solve. Building and staffing childcare centers is expensive. Centers struggle to pay their workers a living wage while keeping their fees within parents' means. Let’s Grow Kids has said the median annual income for a childcare worker in Vermont is only $27,600, which is less than the livable annual income defined by Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Office.

“Without a livable wage, early educators can’t afford to stay in the field,” the group says.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger's office announced that on Friday, May 6, ONE Arts Community School will open with 28 new childcare spots in the city's Old North End neighborhood. The city provided a $103,000 grant toward the project through its early learning initiative, which was developed with help from Let's Grow Kids.

Smugglers’ Notch is ahead of the game in many respects because it already has a dedicated childcare building that was constructed in 2002. It also has administrators, workers and experience. It has long offered childcare to its visitors and employees at a cost.

Smugglers' has about 350 year-round employees and hires another 300 to 400 in the busy winter and summer seasons, said Kelly Mohr, communications director for the resort. Right now, employees pay only $35 a day for childcare — well belong market rate locally, Johnson said. Guests at the resort pay $119 per day.

Starting May 16, the childcare will be free to all employees, and new employees will be eligible immediately, Johnson said. It will be open on a first-come, first-served basis.

Darn Tough, the sock maker based in Northfield, is one of many other businesses also looking at homegrown childcare solutions. HR director John LeBourveau said he’s having trouble finding job applicants, and hears from employees that finding childcare they can afford is one of their biggest challenges.

LeBourveau noted he helped get an on-site childcare up and running when he was director of human resources at Ben & Jerry’s around 2000.

“It was great in its first year or two,” he said. “However, as kids grew out of the program and we did not have others ready to replace, we opened it up to the community. Then, when employees’ [kids] were ready to enroll, we could not just displace those we allowed to enroll.”

After about 10 years, when there were more kids in the program from the community than from the Ben & Jerry’s staff, the center became independent from the company.

“It will take creativity to solve,” LeBourveau said of childcare. He added, “I believe business is the right place for it to be addressed, not the Statehouse.”

Correction, May 5, 2022: An earlier version of this story misspelled John LeBourveau's name.