Meghann Carrasco and Marissa Ritz, co-owners of Seedlings to Sunflowers, at groundbreaking ceremony in November 2017.

Back in 1973 the residents of the small coastal town of Damariscotta, Maine, built a recreational center. The structure was basic, more like an airplane hangar than a wellness center. At the time, it was more than enough to create a community hub.  

At end of the 1980s, the center was purchased by the YMCA and now operates as the Central Lincoln County (CLC) YMCA, serving 22,000 residents of 10 rural Maine communities. The economy there faces challenges similar to many non-industrial, non-metro places in the U.S.; more than half of students in the area participate in the federally subsidized school lunch program, according to the Kids Count Data Center by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. 

Soon though, scores of area children will be cooking up their own meals with fresh, local ingredients in a new teaching kitchen being built thanks to a much needed facelift for the property. The kitchen is just one feature planned for the upgraded, state-of-the-art YMCA. The renovations, along with a 17,000-square-foot expansion, will catapult the community gathering place into the 21st century as it becomes fully ADA accessible to meet the needs of its members within the 25-mile-wide service area. 

An Impact Investing Fund for Rural Communities 

To bridge a gap between the $5.4 million raised in the Y’s capital campaign and final construction costs, the Y received a loan from Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI), through the USDA’s Community Facilities Relending Program 

Created in 2016, the USDA Community Facilities Relending Program provides long-term, low-cost financing for community lenders like CEI working in impoverished rural and Native American communities. The program is facilitating the construction of schools, health care centers, child care facilities and other much-needed services in communities with limited infrastructure development capacity and high or persistent poverty.   

Central to its success is its ability to increase the capacity of community lenders and investors who know the unique needs of the local communities. In Maine that community partner is CEI. CEI has been growing good jobs, environmentally sustainable enterprises and shared prosperity for 40 years. CEI received a $20 million relending facility from the USDA, a guarantee from Bank of America, and a $1 million, five-year grant from Uplift America. CEI tapped the USDA program to make a $2.5-million loan to the Central Lincoln County YMCA. 

With the help of Uplift America and CEI, the loan is allowing the Y to push across the finish line. The Y will open the community’s first public pre-kindergarten in the larger space. Two nonprofits will relocate to the renovated facility, sharing space, greatly increasing resources to their clients, Y members and visitors. A local nonprofit, FARM, will spearhead the teaching kitchen, spreading its mission beyond local school classrooms. Spectrum Generations’ new home will expand senior living and support skills.  

This momentum has produced additional bounty. “Because we were able to put a shovel in the ground with funds that CEI made happen, the community has rallied with additional contributions,” Y CEO Meagan Hamblett says.  

For instance, the baseball field has been spruced up by construction partners. One local donor committed additional funds to insulate three walls of the original building beyond the scope of the original renovation plans. The cost savings in electricity in three years is estimated to offset the gift. 

The Y’s grand reopening is scheduled for April 29, 2018.  

Nurturing Child-Centric Community 

Seedlings to Sunflowers, a start-up nonprofit childcare center in Gorham, Maine, is the second community entity in Maine to benefit from the USDA Community Facilities Relending Program. The founders broke ground on a new facility in this non-metro community in November 2017.  

Founders Marissa Ritz and Meghann Carrasco are friends who founded the enterprise based on their experiences as parents. After navigating waitlists, high teacher turnover, less than ideal curriculums and the lack of collaboration between centers and parents, they both were left wanting more for their children. Their passion for educating children was the seed to envision the childcare center.  

“Our goal is to be more than a daycare. For that reason, we have labeled ourselves as a childcare and family center,” Ritz said. “As a licensed clinical social worker, I have spent the last decade seeing the impact of the disconnection of families and community/education centers. Our goal is to bridge this gap and to focus on building connections in our community.” 

The woman-owned and operated non-profit childcare center will offer voucher slots to low-income families and a sliding scale pricing structure. The organization will offer childcare and education for children aged 6 weeks to 5 years, as well as after-school programs for children aged 5 to 10 years. Programming will include a STEAM-based curriculum (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) and a greenhouse garden-to-table educational program. An adjacent 16 by 20-foot greenhouse will allow year-round outside time. 

Seedlings to Sunflowers was challenged to find the capital needed for the construction of the new 5,300 square foot childcare center. CEI stepped forward with $1.495 million in loan financing from the USDA Community Facilities program and TD Bank. The financing enabled land acquisition, construction, and development of the facility. CEI is also providing workforce assistance to help Seedlings to Sunflowers reach its goal of creating quality jobs and hiring 50 percent of its employees from low to moderate income backgrounds. 

“Beyond providing a much-needed service to families, we are excited to help grow the workforce in our area,” Ritz said. “A goal of the school is to help take a demographic of professionals who are often underpaid and living without benefits and provide the compensation they deserve. Additionally, one of our focus points is to teach community stewardship. We are looking forward to spearheading causes in our community area that are consistent with our mission.” 

The new daycare is due to be open in June. 

Daniel Wallace was the loan officer for each of these transactions. Coincidentally he grew up in Damariscotta, Maine, and played tennis and baseball at the community center as a child. 

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