From shortages in staffing and resources, to rising demand, ever-changing protocols and best practices, Vermont’s early care & learning providers have faced steep challenges brought on by COVID-19.

At Highgate’s Homestead Daycare, owner/director Hallie Johnson assesses the impact on Franklin County’s child care businesses and the families that depend on them. “A lot of private child care programs in our area have closed permanently because of COVID-19,” she says with a sigh. “We’re fortunate, in that all our families were deemed essential workers, so we worked straight through and haven’t shut down,” she says.

Since COVID-19’s arrival in early 2020, Vermont’s early care & learning providers have had to adapt and pivot. Regulations and operating protocols change regularly and often, disrupting their program, impacting attendance (no fevers, coughs, rashes or other symptoms for up to 72 hours) and requiring regular, rigorous cleaning and disinfecting.

Surprisingly perhaps, some of the biggest challenges have come in the smallest packages: toys. Toys and play equipment made of fabric or other soft, germ-carrying materials, has had to be discarded and, if possible, replaced with wooden and hard-surfaced equipment that could be thoroughly and easily disinfected.


While Hallie fully understands the need to dispose of the possibly-contaminated toys, she also notes the heavy price. “Cleaning materials and replacements for play equipment have been expensive,” she says. But the cost to the kids, who were missing their dollhouses and other play equipment, was even more costly, she adds.

Hallie devised a plan: “First I asked the children for a list of what they really wanted,” she says. Next, she followed up with input from parents. The list of requests (not surprisingly!) aligned perfectly with Homestead’s nature-based curriculum. “They asked for outdoor play structures, tents, raised beds for growing vegetables that we could eat, balance beams and rock gardens,” Hallie says. “And a dollhouse.”

Hallie’s husband was ready to begin building wooden toys and outdoor play structures, but the couple soon discovered another hurdle.

“We were ready to buy, but the cost of lumber and other materials had skyrocketed since COVID-19 hit,” she says. That’s when she called the Vermont Community Loan Fund.

“VCLF was absolutely wonderful,” she says. “They made the whole loan process painless and really easy!” Hallie’s VCLF loan covered costs of lumber and other materials. The Homestead children are now excitedly keeping watch as their new play spaces take shape.

“For over 20 years, VCLF has stood by Vermont’s early care & learning programs, providing financing and free-to-the-borrower business development resources, lending over $10.7 million to Vermont programs that have created and preserved more than 4,700 child care slots to date,” says VCLF Executive Director Will Belongia. “VCLF is committed to providing this critical support through the pandemic and beyond.”

Hallie is quick to point up VCLF’s unique, mission-driven work. “Banks don’t really support child care loans,” she says, “So I wouldn’t have been able to do all of this without the Loan Fund. I’m so grateful for myself and the kids, for all VCLF has made possible.”

From shortages in staffing and resources, to rising demand, ever-changing protocols and best practices, Vermont’s early care & learning providers have faced steep challenges brought on by COVID-19.

At Highgate’s Homestead Daycare, owner/director Hallie Johnson assesses the impact on Franklin County’s child care businesses and the families that depend on them. “A lot of private child care programs in our area have closed permanently because of COVID-19,” she says with a sigh. “We’re fortunate, in that all our families were deemed essential workers, so we worked straight through and haven’t shut down,” she says.

Since COVID-19’s arrival in early 2020, Vermont’s early care & learning providers have had to adapt and pivot. Regulations and operating protocols change regularly and often, disrupting their program, impacting attendance (no fevers, coughs, rashes or other symptoms for up to 72 hours) and requiring regular, rigorous cleaning and disinfecting.

Surprisingly perhaps, some of the biggest challenges have come in the smallest packages: toys. Toys and play equipment made of fabric or other soft, germ-carrying materials, has had to be discarded and, if possible, replaced with wooden and hard-surfaced equipment that could be thoroughly and easily disinfected.


While Hallie fully understands the need to dispose of the possibly-contaminated toys, she also notes the heavy price. “Cleaning materials and replacements for play equipment have been expensive,” she says. But the cost to the kids, who were missing their dollhouses and other play equipment, was even more costly, she adds.

Hallie devised a plan: “First I asked the children for a list of what they really wanted,” she says. Next, she followed up with input from parents. The list of requests (not surprisingly!) aligned perfectly with Homestead’s nature-based curriculum. “They asked for outdoor play structures, tents, raised beds for growing vegetables that we could eat, balance beams and rock gardens,” Hallie says. “And a dollhouse.”

Hallie’s husband was ready to begin building wooden toys and outdoor play structures, but the couple soon discovered another hurdle.

“We were ready to buy, but the cost of lumber and other materials had skyrocketed since COVID-19 hit,” she says. That’s when she called the Vermont Community Loan Fund.

“VCLF was absolutely wonderful,” she says. “They made the whole loan process painless and really easy!” Hallie’s VCLF loan covered costs of lumber and other materials. The Homestead children are now excitedly keeping watch as their new play spaces take shape.

“For over 20 years, VCLF has stood by Vermont’s early care & learning programs, providing financing and free-to-the-borrower business development resources, lending over $10.7 million to Vermont programs that have created and preserved more than 4,700 child care slots to date,” says VCLF Executive Director Will Belongia. “VCLF is committed to providing this critical support through the pandemic and beyond.”

Hallie is quick to point up VCLF’s unique, mission-driven work. “Banks don’t really support child care loans,” she says, “So I wouldn’t have been able to do all of this without the Loan Fund. I’m so grateful for myself and the kids, for all VCLF has made possible.”

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