Lauren Jones with her 18-month-old daughter Mary at Growing Learners in Falmouth. Mary was one of the first enrollees. Contributed / Lauren Jones

When Falmouth mom and real estate broker Lauren Jones heard this fall that Little Red Caboose was closing its doors, she took steps to make sure local daycare would still be available.

Her mission was successful. Growing Learners, which has two locations in Portland, is now operating at the Rich Way space with all of its 70 licensed spaces filled. The opening comes at a time when a lack of daycare is a problem statewide for working parents.

Jones learned about Little Red Caboose’s plans to close after 30 years because of pandemic-related issues in September. At the same time, she was struggling to find a daycare for her 18-month-old daughter, Mary.

Growing Learners opened at Rich Way in Falmouth in November after another daycare in the building closed. Rachel Vitello / The Forecaster

“I knew my real estate schedule was flexible, so I thought I’d be able to work from home with my child and found out that’s not as easy as it sounds,” Jones said, recalling often having to bring Mary with her to house showings and tending to her needs while simultaneously taking work phone calls and participating in Zoom meetings. “I could not get her into daycare. Every single one I called said their waitlist was full or was 100 kids long. I got very discouraged.”

She reached out to a previous client, who didn’t want to be named, who was interested in making “an investment with impact,” she said. He agreed to buy the building and lease it to a daycare facility. She contacted about 15 daycare centers and all ended up being interested in the space.

Growing Learners was the top pick because of the interactive and educational activities they offer, Jones said, looking “exactly like the kind of daycare the community would appreciate.”

“We were interested because at our Portland locations, we get a lot of calls from Falmouth families who have told us that it’s kind of a child care desert, and even though Falmouth is a growing town, there’s not many child care options,” Growing Learners owner Alyssa Harvey said.

In 2021, there were three daycare centers, including Little Red Caboose with 89 spots, located in Falmouth, according to the town.

Statewide, 1,606 child care facilities, including daycares, nursery schools and family child care providers, were licensed as of January 2022, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Between April 2020 and September 2021, the earliest months of the pandemic, 187 closed, according to The Times Record.

Jones’s daughter was one Growing Learners’ first enrollees when it opened in November. Most of the families served at the Falmouth center are from Falmouth, Yarmouth and Cumberland, Harvey said. The center accepts children from 6 weeks to 6 years, but there is now a waitlist.

Jones, a broker at F.O. Bailey Real Estate in Falmouth, said the daycare has “been absolutely incredible.”

“It also helps me be a better mother when I’m with her because I can just focus on being with her in the moment because I got all my work done during the day,” she said. “This was one of my favorite transactions because every time I drop off Mary and I bump into a parent, they just talk about how happy they are that there’s a daycare now. Every day is rewarding.”

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