BEAUFORT — When Hurricane Florence left its mark on Carteret County, both of the county’s Head Start centers felt the wrath of the storm.
While the damaged center in Newport was able to reopen about four weeks after Florence hit in September, the Beaufort center wasn’t as lucky, according to Charlotte Neely, program director of Family and Children’s Services with Coastal Community Action, Inc. in Newport, the fiscal agent for the local Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
“Damages sustained from Hurricane Florence were over 70 percent of the building,” Ms. Neely said in an email to the News-Times. “The roof and ceiling had completely collapsed, allowing a flood-gate of rainwater to destroy walls, flooring, equipment, office and classroom furniture, supplies and materials. Initial building damage estimates were approximately $300,000.”
After seven months of cleanup, repairs and renovations, the Beaufort Head Start Center reopened its doors April 10 on Professional Drive.
While 66 children returned to the center’s NC Pre-K, Head Start and Early Head Start programs, Ms. Neely said several families and staff were displaced by the hurricane and moved out of the area.
The center can take up to 95 children, toddler to preschool age, whose families meet the criteria of the federal program for low-income families. There are currently openings in all age groups.
Beaufort center manager Shirley Letourneau said Tuesday she and her staff were ecstatic to be back in their building.
“We feel like we’re home,” Ms. Letourneau said. “The parents are so delighted we are back. We stayed in constant touch with our parents while the building was shut down.”
Ms. Letourneau added that they were able to temporarily relocate the NC Pre-K program to First Free Will Baptist Church in Beaufort, which offered classroom space while the center was closed.
“They went out of their way to help us,” she said. “They had to get special licensing. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the help they gave us. In fact, there was an outpouring of support from our community and we are so grateful.”
Staff that worked at the center were able to receive disaster unemployment or move to other Head Start centers while repairs were made.
Early Head Start teacher Barbara Parker said she was happy to get back in her classroom.
“It seemed like it took forever to get here, but we’re finally back,” Ms. Parker said.
The Head Start centers weren’t the only childcare centers in the county to sustain major damage, according to Cynthia Jackson, child care resource referral director for the Carteret County Partnership for Children.
Four other childcare centers, from Newport to Beaufort, were affected by the hurricane and had to vacate their buildings. All but one has now moved back to their original locations, according to Ms. Jackson.
Land of the Little People in Newport relocated to another building on Highway 70 in Newport and does not plan to go back to its former location, according to Ms. Jackson.
“Their building got damaged so bad the director told me they don’t plan to go back to their former building and are in the process of getting their new building up to code,” Ms. Jackson said.
The other three centers that temporarily relocated and are now back in their original buildings are Little Gems Daycare in Newport, Childcare Network in Morehead City and Sandbox Childcare Center in Newport.
Some of the damaged centers didn’t have insurance, but communities rallied around them, according to Ms. Jackson. In addition, Save the Children, an international organization that assists children, provided funds to help those centers.
“Save the Children is planning to come and tour one of the centers they helped, I just don’t know when,” Ms. Jackson said.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.