The building was once known for helping bring electricity to thousands of households and businesses in Canby — but soon, it will be filled with a very different kind of energy: 3- and 4-year-olds. The former headquarters of Canby Utility, 154 NW 1st Ave., is about to become a preschool.
Mary Hanlon, founder and principal of Hanlon Development — which is the managing member of the Dahlia and is leading the redevelopment of the Canby Civic Block — said child care has always been important to her team’s plans for this corner of downtown Canby, along with other active uses like restaurants and a coffee shop.
“One of our goals for the block was to have a daycare for the community,” she tells The Canby Current. “As you know, Canby has lots of families and high-quality, affordable child care is a critical part of a strong community and workforce.
“And, with how Covid-19 has impacted schools and the economy, the need for child care as well as early learning and development is more pressing than ever.”
Stephanie Whitmore is the owner and director of Nonnie’s Village. Both its name and guiding philosophy come from her grandmother.
Though Whitmore grew up in Virginia, she spent her summers at Nonnie’s farm in Beavercreek, learning to cook and can.
“She was just the most wonderful person who ever lived, as far as I’m concerned,” Whitmore tells the Current. “She always took in kids, whenever anybody needed help. She loved children, and I learned so much from her about community and helping people.”
Those lessons will play a central role at Nonnie’s Village — which carries the motto “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.”
“The community, helping each other, that’s what we’re all about,” Whitmore says. “I love Canby, and we’re so glad to be able to start this model here, which we hope to create in other towns as well.”
And it’s not only Nonnie’s life lessons that Whitmore will be relying upon.
“We’re going to be using a lot of her recipes for the kids,” she said. At Nonnies, two homemade, healthy meals and snacks will be available each day. “My dad will be helping cook, so that will be fun. She was famous for her chicken and dumplings and peach cobbler.”
The building is currently undergoing renovations and does not have an opening date. Whitmore hopes to begin operating in a month — by mid-November.
Whitmore said the work of transforming the old Canby Utility building into a preschool facility is not particularly extensive, but they are tearing down a few walls and adding a prep kitchen area, washer and dryer, and shorter sinks for toddlers to wash their hands.
The facility must also be inspected and approved by the state to provide licensed child care.
To start, Nonnie’s will be accepting only 3s and 4-year-olds through Preschool Promise, a state-funded Early Learning Division outreach that provides high-quality, culturally relevant preschool education. Qualifying families must live at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.
The program currently has two other sites operating in Clackamas County: Sandy Grade School and the Oregon Child Development Coalition in Mulino.
More information about Preschool Promise is available in English and Spanish below:
The preschool will also offer reduced rates through the state-funded Employee Related Day Care program, or ERDC.
Nonnie’s plans to extend its program to include infants (6 weeks or older) and 1- through 5-year-olds, but will need to obtain additional emergency certification to handle babies.
Whitmore has a jump on that training; though this is her first time running a child care facility, she has more than 20 years of experience as a nurse, where she specialized in the care of babies who had been affected by drugs.
Her most recent job was as a school nurse for Clackamas County.
“That was where I realized what a need there is for safe, quality child care,” she said. “Especially for children with special needs.”
She earned her master’s degree in business and began developing her plans for Nonnie’s Village. She has been working with Hanlon and a Realtor for many months, she said.
The coronavirus pandemic, obviously, has complicated things this year, but the parties have now signed a lease, and Whitmore’s dream is becoming a reality.
“We’re in the home stretch now, I think,” she says.
Nonnie’s preschool will be classroom-based and will initially have staffing and capacity for two classes of up to 18 preschoolers — though she believes the facility could ultimate house as many as 90 to 100 kids (depending on the occupancy granted by the county).
The facility also plans to expand its hours eventually, and hopes to hear from the community about the services that are most needed for working families.
They will be following all of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for mitigating the spread of the coronavirus, she said, including the wearing of face coverings for staff, screening employees and children for symptoms and temperature, and daily deep cleanings.
“We’re coming into cold and flu season, of course, so we’ll be doing the best we can to keep everybody safe,” Whitmore says. “But we’re still going to be giving hugs. We need to. Kids need touch.”
Must have been another lesson she learned from Nonnie.