Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Potter's House closing doors Friday in Vernon

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
January 24, 2008

VERNON - Potter's House, the Rockville daycare facility that serves area working poor, plans to close Friday after a 10-year financial roller coaster ride has left the nonprofit broke.

According to a letter Wednesday signed by the board of directors and addressed to parents, grandparents, and guardians, "it is only dire economic circumstances that lead us to this point. We anticipate this period of discontinued service will last for six to 12 months."

The closing of the Brooklyn Street childcare will affect about 19 families and 30 children, Jeff Bachiochi, treasurer for the board, said today.

The closing is alarming on two fronts for Megan Bocanegera. Not only does she work at the childcare, but she also uses it for her two sons, 7-year-old A.J. and 6-year-old Austin, who has been diagnosed with autism.

Bocanegera first learned about Potter's House when she and her husband were deployed overseas in May 2003 - she to the Middle East and he to Japan.

Luckily grandma stepped in, Bocanegera said.

Sandra Lambert, the grandmother, is an emergency room nurse at Rockville General Hospital. She thought her childcare days were over and wasn't sure what she could find to accommodate her crazy hours. She heard about the Potter's House at work and signed the boys up after only one visit.

When Bocanegera returned home from the Middle East seven months later, she was pleasantly surprised at how well the two boys did in her absence. She was so impressed with Potter's House that two years later, after leaving the military and going through a divorce, she re-enrolled her children and started working there herself.

The facility not only offers parents later hours, but also bus service from the Vernon schools for afternoon care, she said.

And the staff has worked wonders with Austin and the other children there who also have disabilities, Navy veteran Bacanegera said.

"It's hard to find good people that you trust - they've become like our family," she said.

Daycare officials say they are hoping the closing will be temporary and are still holding a series of open houses this month and next.

In the meantime, debts have to be settled, and teachers are owed more than a week's pay.

Executive Director Leslie Suarez says she has taken a portion of her own salary to hire a professional grant writer, but those funds won't be realized for another six months.

Another funding dilemma comes from the nature of the business, Bachiochi said.

"We're basically in the business of trying to serve really needy families, and because of their own financial problems they can't always meet what their requirements are, and it's a trickle down effect," Bachiochi said.

Parents pay on a sliding scale based on income with the state chipping in the difference. Those subsidies are never sufficient, however, for even a nominal fee, he said.

So the center relies heavily on fund raising, which on the corporate level has been non existent in recent years, officials say.

"We're a little dumbfounded at the lack of support - not only in the local community but in general," Bachiochi said. "After 10 years it's just frustrating."

That's not to say Potter's House doesn't have supporters, he added, saying area churches, local civic groups, and individuals have been very generous.

But since 2002 when the Eastern Connecticut Health Network pulled a $105,000 federal grant, the nonprofit has floundered, officials say.

Potter's House got a boost a year later from the Vernon Town Council when it approved nearly $22,000 in federal funding to help the center.

The center has never found a sponsor to take over ECHN's spot, however, and has been financially fragile as a result, Suarez said.

With gas and electric rates rising, "there's been a tsunami of expenses that came in at once and the funding could not keep up," Suarez said.

Until the grant money comes in, the center is hoping the community will come to the rescue and is soliciting donations through e-mail and other avenues.

Suarez said that to keep the doors open for three to four months $20,000 is needed, with $50,000 required to stabilize the nonprofit and $100,000 to bring it to a level where it can self-sustain.

All pledges will receive a letter to claim tax exemption, a personal card from a child, monthly updates, and a detailed report on how the contribution was spent, Suarez said.

"For now, we're truly hoping this is only going to be temporary, until we can pay off our debts and stabilize," she said.

Anyone who would like to make a contribution can contact the Potter's House at 872-1819. For more information about the center, its programs, or the open house activities, go the Web site:

©Journal Inquirer 2008