Sundae Horn
OCC to Close December 1st

It will take a village to get Ocracoke Child Care open again.

Last week, the board of directors of Ocracoke Child Care announced that the center would close from December 1st until March 1st due to finances. They plan to use the time to fundraise, and restructure and reorganize the center’s business plan.

“It’s just a question of volume,” said OCC board president Amy Srail Johnson. “We stayed open last winter for just six children and were unable to recover financially. Without the infusion of Occupancy Tax money, we would’ve closed in July or August.”

The Occupancy Tax board turned down OCC’s first two requests for funding because they felt the center wasn’t financially sustainable. Third time’s a charm: the OT board agreed to a one-time bailout to the tune of $35,000, which included funds specifically earmarked to hire help to make sense of the center’s financial woes.

The OCC board hired accountant Gary Davis, who worked with OCC director Chaeli Moyer on a financial report, which they presented to the OCC board.

“[Closing for three months] was a unanimous vote,” Amy said. “We were hoping the numbers would be different, but they weren’t. It was a difficult decision, but it was our only choice.”

OCC to Close December 1st

Last winter, OCC incurred losses of over $35,000. In the summer months, when the center operates at closer to full capacity, “we don’t lose money, but we don’t make money, either,” said Chaeli. Summer income does not provide enough for the center to stay open all year.

The majority of OCC children have their daycare subsidized by “Purchase of Care,” a federal program that is administered by Hyde County. 75% of OCC enrollees receive some help from Purchase of Care; the program requires that parents prove (with paystubs) that they are working while their kid's at daycare. Low-income families who qualify pay for childcare on a sliding scale of fees and Purchase of Care pays the rest. Ocracoke Child Care receives the POC funds at full market value for each child – in other words, the center gets the same amount of money for each child who’s enrolled, including the 25% who don’t get assistance.

“Purchase of Care families are basically carrying this operation,” Chaeli said. “Once the summer season ends and enrollment is down, we start losing money. Closing for the winter isn’t fair to the year-round children, but it’s the only choice.”

In addition to closing for three months, OCC will also close early (at 3pm, instead of 5pm) for the rest of November. It will help them “mitigate losses,” Chaeli said from the center’s seasonal drop in enrollment that started in September.

OCC to Close December 1st

Chaeli will spend the winter months doing administrative work, writing grants, and fundraising. She says the board is looking at new structures, and new options in staffing and hours. They plan to keep the center open seven days a week next year, with an early shift and a late shift to accommodate Ocracoke’s summer work schedules. 

“Our ultimate goal is to stay open year round and provide the service the community needs,” she said.

Much discussion in the community over the past week has centered around: Why now? Ocracoke Child Care has struggled before, but never had to close its doors. Why is the situation so dire this year?

Several factors are at play, but the easiest answer is: it was a long time coming.

“We’ve gone at least two years with same enrollment problem – not enough children in the fall, winter, and spring,” Amy said. 

The center suffered a significant loss of enrollment when the Pre-K program moved from OCC to Ocracoke School (in 2009, if memory serves). The state and federal funds that support Pre-K moved along with the program. Then the 21st Century Learning grant afterschool program started at Ocracoke School (in 2010) and there went the Kindergarten kids who used to come to daycare (and pay for it) from 3 – 5. 

“We can’t compete with free,” said Gary.

The Occupancy Tax board used to allocate $15,000 a year to the center; in recent years, the OT board has decided to stop funding any operating costs of local organizations. They will consider project-related grants, but besides this summer’s bailout, they want OCC to be self-sustaining.

Demographics have changed on the island in the past few years and not as many kids are going to OCC. There aren’t enough parents with full-time, year-round jobs in the community to support daycare.

OCC to Close December 1st
Artwork by the kids of OCC, with help from their wonderful teachers, Jetta Brown, Mary Fulcher-Swain, Emilie Mason, and Karla Ortiz.

Gary said that because of the center’s system of accrual accounting it was easy to overlook some outstanding bills, and the “overdraft situation in the payroll account.” Cleaning up the records showed that “there were misperceptions about how it was doing financially,” he said.

Perhaps most significant, there have not been any recent large fundraising events. The biggest moneymakers this year were three Mexican lunches that brought in about $1000 each. That’s nothing like the scale of a Firemen’s Ball ($65,000 for OVFD) or a golf cart raffle ($19,000 for Ocracoke Youth Center), which are two successful, annual fundraisers for other worthy causes.

“OCC doesn’t get large donations,” said Gary, whose volunteer treasurer-ing with local non-profits has shown him that big donors are out there. “It might be our own fault for not soliciting donations,” he added. Consider yourself solicited, Ocracoke Current reader!

Re-opening on March 1st will take a huge community effort, says Chaeli. It will require heavy fundraising, which needs to start as soon as possible. 

“We’d like to do something over Thanksgiving weekend,” Chaeli said. “We’re determined and committed and we care a lot about the daycare being here. We need people to come together with support.”

One way to support the daycare is to purchase an OCC t-shirt or sweatshirt, which will be available at the Variety Store starting on Wednesday. Amy bought all the shirts and donated them to the cause; all of the proceeds will benefit OCC.

At their meeting on November 3rd, the OCC board welcomed new members Karen Lovejoy, Carol Pahl, Bob Kremser, Connie Leinbach, and Teresa Coffey O’Neal. Former board president Rob King will be leaving the board after the next meeting. Other board members include Amy (current president), Guille Moreno, and Janille Turner.

As a new member, Karen Lovejoy said she was "impressed with how much work Gary, Chaeli, and Amy did to show us in black and white what the situation was. There was some discussion at the meeting, but no question about what had to be done." 

For the time being, the board will meet every two weeks. 

“We’re hoping to have other qualified people on the board,” Amy said. “We’ll add more board members if people want to help.” 

The board is also seeking members for a fundraising committee. Got energy and ideas? Let them know. Call OCC at 252-928-4131.

Kids Movie Nights will continue through the winter (check the Current calendar for dates and times!). The winter price will be a bargain $5 donation per kid.