For over 50 years, the Isabella Child Development Center (ICDC) has been almost completely funded by the ICDC Thrift Shop, currently located on High Street in Mt. Pleasant.
Community members donate their clothing, toys, books, and other items to the shop, and when the items are purchased, the funds are put towards the preschool program for 3-year-olds at ICDC.
The ICDC began in 1969 when members of the community recognized that young children of Isabella County didn’t have the advantage of a preschool program.
Tom Moffit is a long-time volunteer at the thrift shop and former treasurer of the ICDC Executive Board. Moffit has been volunteering since he retired several years ago from Central Michigan University (CMU) where he taught in the education program.
Moffit says at the time, the board didn’t have a way to fund the preschool program and someone suggested the idea of opening a thrift store. So, the store opened in 1970 and fully funded the school.
A child attends the ICDC preschool during the pandemic.
For the first 30 years, the entire program was funded by the thrift shop, but as time went on and the school expanded, they became eligible for grants from the Michigan Department of Education
. These grants now fund the added 4-year-old preschool program, while the shop funded the 3-year-old program.
The preschool is located, for no cost, within the Presbyterian Church on Watson Road in Mt. Pleasant, allowing for extra funds to instead be spent on paying the teachers and updating certain amenities such as the playground.
Although the teachers are paid, those who work at the thrift shop are 100% volunteers.
“It is an amazing thing that we've been able to keep this story going since with almost all just volunteer efforts,” says Moffit.
Moffit has been involved with ICDC in one way or another since it began. He says he keeps going back because of the meaning of the work.
“It isn't the place as much as it is what we were doing with the money that was made at the place, because the money was necessary to keep the school open and running, the way we want it to run anyway,” says Moffit. “So, that's why when you work at the shop, you know that you're doing something worthwhile, helping kids.”
Megan Goodwin, Ph.D. and Associate Dean of the College of Education and Human Services at CMU, is a current board member of the ICDC. She was asked to serve as a member because of her background in early childhood education.
Goodwin says the preschool program began shortly after Head Start programs began, which provides state-funded preschool for low-income families. She says the ICDC recognized that there were families who couldn’t afford tuition-based preschool and didn’t qualify for Head Start programs, which is why it’s so important for the community.
A group of preschool students draw on a chalkboard.
“This program provides a place for these families to find a preschool experience, and so we kind of are that in between place,” says Goodwin. “So, for families who can't afford a tuition-based program, those families have options. Head Start provides options for the lowest income families, and then Isabella Child Development Center provides an in-between.”
According to Goodwin, the ICDC provides assistance for the entire family, not just the child.
“While we certainly work directly with the children, we also provide parenting programs and involve parents in their children's programs. So, it's kind of a benefit to more than just that one child who attends the program,” says Goodwin.
Moffit feels the preschool program is important for the adjustment of the kids as they continue on to elementary school.
“The kids are learning how to be able to get along with each other, learning vocabulary, learning how to be able to communicate — just all sorts of things that are important,” says Moffit. “And they do very well, and when they finally do get to school, we do not have any scientific studies showing an improvement that our kids make. They do. We know they make improvements.”
Like so many other schools, the ICDC faced issues with the pandemic. Goodwin says the teachers with the program were able to offer some online components for the kids. She says it was difficult because of how young they are in age, but they were still able to gain something from the program.
“They [the teachers] read stories with them and planned activities that they could get families to work with children with,” says Goodwin. “They did some pretty remarkable things.”
Since the ICDC Thrift Shop was opened in 1970, it has been a primary source of funding for the preschool program.
After being completely shut down due to COVID-19, the ICDC Thrift Shop now has reduced hours. As it is a primary source of income for the ICDC, it did change the program and Goodwin says they had to reduce the number of children they could take on and they split the classes into a morning group and an afternoon group.
The thrift shop stayed closed longer than most schools because a majority of its volunteers are older and in a group more vulnerable to COVID-19. Several volunteers returned when the shop was able to open, but they are still operating at reduced hours and are open on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Goodwin says it’s been a struggle to find more volunteers for the shop to fully open.
“People, especially in the summer months, want to take vacations and time off and so we are always looking for new volunteers who might have a few hours to contribute, and right now that's our biggest limitation,” says Goodwin. “We don't have enough volunteers right now to be open longer hours or more days of the week.”
Moffit also says it’s been difficult to find volunteers right now because many of their returning volunteers aren’t yet comfortable coming back into the workplace.
As restrictions continue to lift and the state continues to open up, Goodwin says she’s hopeful that the program and the thrift shop will be able to go back to being fully operational.
You can find out more about the thrift shop on their Facebook page at Facebook.com/ICDCThriftShop