By Cameron Autry
Pillars of Portland is a monthly column celebrating local leaders and doers. This month we celebrate Lori Moses, executive director of Catherine Morrill Day Nursery.
“I’ve always felt that working with young parents and children is very important,” said Lori Moses, executive director of the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery (CMDN), one of the top accredited childcare centers in the state. The Nursery, located on Danforth Street, celebrated 100 years of service this past June.
Childcare – A top issue for Maine
Lori Moses has worked in childcare for several decades, which includes managing five different childcare centers throughout Portland and advocating for the critical need to invest more in early childhood development and the workers that facilitate this process.
Childcare is a sore spot in our society today. Moses noted that childcare costs rival and in many cases supersede the cost of a mortgage, leaving many families high and dry as they struggle to find quality, accessible, and affordable programs. The flip side of the coin is that, despite the high costs, childcare workers receive a national average hourly wage of $11.42 an hour, comparable to that of parking lot attendees and hairdressers.
Compounding the issue is that day cares have been closing at alarming rates in Maine, creating what has been described as a “childcare desert.” When young families have both parents in the workforce, as is the norm, the need for quality care becomes even more acute. Moses identifies this lack of access as one of the top issues in the state.
Recent research strongly demonstrates the link between early education and socialization with mature neurological development. “Children need to be with other children,” said Moses. “That is where the learning happens. They can learn in the context of play.”
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s website, “The brain builds crucial structures and pathways that serve as the foundation for future social, emotional, language, and intellectual functioning,” expanding further, “the relationships a child experiences every day and the environments in which those relationships play out are the building blocks of the brain.”
For Moses, who has her finger on the pulse of this issue as much as anyone else, it is absolutely critical to ensure as many families—regardless of socioeconomic status—as possible have access to quality childcare. “If parents are going to be in the workforce, they need childcare,” she said. “The most important thing in the early years is a good relationship with an adult.”
This is where the CMDN steps in.
The Nursery, which serves 80 infants, toddlers, early learners and their families, ensures 51% of available slots are given to lower- and middle-income families, using a sliding scale to determine pricing.
The CMDN “evolved over the years to support the needs of the community,” said Moses. “We continue to prioritize low- and medium-income families, but we accept all families. We love the diversity.”
The history of the Nursery can be traced back to a nutrition campaign for babies started in 1916 by a group of Portland women. In May of 1917, the same women opened a milk station under the leadership of Katherine L. Quinn, the first trained public health nurse in Portland. In 1919, this group of women opened a day nursery in Portland then known as the Portland Baby Hygiene and Child Welfare Association.
In March of 1920, the day nursery was renamed the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery in honor of Catherine Morrill, a volunteer at the Nursery that fell ill and passed away in her early twenties.
Today, the Nursery stands strong and recently renovated a cafeteria to make space for more classrooms and increased enrollment capacity. The CMDN is recognized by the Department of Health and Human Services as a “Step Four” childcare program—the foremost ranking of childcare accreditation in Maine, meaning, among many other qualifying factors, that the staff has completed the highest levels of training and education.
“The kind of program that I like to be involved with is one that honors the children and honors their parents,” said Moses.
When asked what her favorite part of the day is, Moses responded enthusiastically: “It’s seeing the kids, and knowing they’re happy.”
Catherine Morrill Day Nursery
To make a tax-deductible donation to the CMDN, visit www.catherinemorrill.org/support-us.
In addition, the CMDN also sells commemorative bricks and operates a small online store, with all proceeds going to the Nursery.
Cameron Autry is a freelance writer and the host of The Southern Maine Report podcast.