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A Conversation with Lori Moses

Lori Moses is the Executive Director of Catherine Morrill Day Nursery, a childcare facility in Portland and United Way Partner Agency. She is also part of the Starting Strong Leadership Team.

Please tell me about Catherine Morrill Day Nursery.

Catherine Morrill Day Nursery began in 1919. It was started by a group of women in response to community needs for healthy children and babies. Catherine Morrill herself was a volunteer. She was in her 20s, and she was a beloved volunteer there, and she died quite early, so they changed the name. Not sure of the date, whether it was in the 30s or the 50s. In 1967, it became the first licensed child-care center in Maine.

Our mission is to serve and promote a young child’s total development in a safe and nurturing environment, and to support families and community. We serve all children, but we prioritize low-to-moderate income children at risk. But one of our greatest strengths is that we’re not all high-income, we’re not all low-income; we have a mix. All children should have a quality early learning environment, and we can make the most difference in the trajectory of children’s lives if we serve them earlier.

Could you talk a little about your specific role at Catherine Morrill and your history with Starting Strong?

I’ve been at Catherine Morrill since 2011 and I’m the Executive Director. I’ve been involved with Starting Strong since the very beginning. My role has been the School Readiness Workgroup chair, but now I’m just in the group, and I’m on the leadership team. We are also part of a Pre-K pilot for attendance. We track the attendance of our 3 and 4 year olds to see if there’s a relationship with outcomes. I believe very strongly in the mission of Starting Strong and have been very active in our participation.

How does your participation in Starting Strong connect to the mission of your organization?

It connects because we serve all children, and we want them to have a quality learning environment and make sure that they are prepared for school and life. If a child doesn’t have their basic needs and they’re hungry, homeless, don’t have shoes, anything like that can be very stressful and that can interfere with their learning. We can help the family with stability, help the children get good meals, and make sure the teachers are a resource.  

We believe it’s important that children understand empathy, can follow directions, know how to be a friend, know how to play, and that they be curious learners. With Starting Strong’s campaign for grade 3 level reading, they also believe that if children are ready for school, if they’re able to read proficiently by third grade, it’ll give them a better chance at graduation, post-high school education, getting a good job, giving back to the community, and being a good, solid citizen. It starts early.

What is the role of coalitions like Starting Strong in early childhood education?

It’s the, “It takes a village,” approach, the community approach. Parents can’t do it by themselves, professionals can’t do it by themselves, and schools can’t do it by themselves. Everybody has a vested interest in children succeeding and reaching their potential.

What is the role of advocacy in supporting early childhood success?

There is a role. There are policies and procedures at the state level and at the national level that impact our work. We’re able to provide scholarship to Portland residents who are income-eligible for child-care when they fall through the cracks on federal programs. It’s been seen that children have been getting expelled or suspended from childcare and preschool at a very high rate, and part of that is there being a need for support services for the children. There’s been some efforts to see what it would look like to have mental health consultants in early childhood that keep children, teachers, and parents all learning new skills and new strategies so that children can be successful. So, it makes a huge difference. Currently, there’s very little support. I think the state puts in about $200,000 for early childcare and education. Everything else is either federal money or from Healthy Maine. It just doesn’t seem to be a priority.

What do you consider the most important aspect of what you do?

I think it’s creating a program that supports the children and provides what they need so they’ll be successful in school and in life. We love these kids. I cry when I see them leave, and the parents, you get close to them, too. Yet, it’s a happy thing. The kids are skipping away, they know their alphabet; they know how to be a little citizen.