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Keeping Noah's Ark afloat wasn't easy

By Archive

The best community development work, like saving one of the largest early education centers in the state's largest city, creates ripples that benefit a community for many years to come.

Noah's Ark Child Care Center in Manchester faced a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

In 1999, the nonprofit child care center had been operating for years as part of the St. Francis Church parish, a church complex that just happened to sit at the location designated as the expansion site of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. The church planned to relocate to Litchfield, but informed the child care center parents and staff that March that they were not invited along.

Children playing at Noah's Ark Child Care Center in Manchester

Noah's Ark has provided early education services to more than 2,500 children.

The parents who relied on Noah's Ark, and the staff who were deeply committed to early childhood education, were stunned, and didn't know where to turn. Someone suggested to Executive Director Mary Ann Magoun that she contact the Community Loan Fund to see if we could help.

That simple phone call started a relationship and journey that spanned seven years, and beyond.

Our first step was to help the parents and management create their own nonprofit separate from the church. It was plodding, painstaking work, especially when added on top of the daily responsibilities of running a busy early education center. They needed to incorporate with a newly formed Board of Directors, apply for Internal Revenue Service nonprofit status, and establish what was essentially a new business operation.

Once that was done, they needed to find a new location for Noah's Ark. Finding an affordable and suitable location for an early childhood program is not an easy task, and particularly challenging where real estate costs are high. After some fits and starts one was found in the East Industrial Park in Manchester.

Noah's Ark used a loan from the Community Loan Fund to make renovations and moved into the new space on Dec. 31, 2000. The 13,000-square-foot facility enabled the center to serve 175 children, 60 more than previously. Noah's Ark initially rented the space, with a long-term plan to buy it. In 2002, with another round of financing from the Community Loan Fund and other partners, including the NH Health and Education Facilities Authority, Noah's Ark bought the building. It now had a permanent home.

Noah's Ark continued to mature as an organization, and refinanced its loan (each of its previous loans had rolled into the next) to a lower interest rate with a local bank seven years later.

That's exactly what we like to see happen. Loan repayments, whether for our Child Care Facilities or other loan programs, make funding available when we receive the next phone call from a child care center in need.

"If it were not for the Community Loan Fund, we would not be here 13 years later providing quality care for hundreds of working families and a fabulous work environment for our 56 employees," said Executive Director Cynthia Higham.

'Community development' is a dry term, and one little understood other than by its practitioners. But the best community development work, like saving one of the largest early education centers in the state's largest city, creates ripples that benefit a community for many years to come.

Since its relocation, Noah's Ark has provided early education services to more than 2,500 children, whose parents were able to work and build economic security for their families. Theirs is a tremendous success story.