Parents are calling them the " victims." But nearly two weeks after the , these victims will get to see the graduation they earned after all.
On Thursday, , which opened in March, will host graduation services for all Pre-K students from Precious Cargo. It's the cap to what may have been the most eventful, and stressful, few weeks in a long time for staff, teachers and parents.
Anna Keeney is the mother of three-year-old Meghan, one of those "Precious Cargo victims." With another child on the way, she had day care on her mind when she pulled into Precious Cargo's parking lot to pick her daughter up on Friday, June 1. She'd recently visited ABC Learn With Me, the new day care in town, to talk with director Robin Harrington about future services for her next child.
"With everything going on at Precious Cargo," she tells me -- reports of poor conditions, overworked teachers who went without paychecks, and disinterested management -- "I wasn't planning on using their services again."
Harrington's philosophy had impressed her; it reminded her of Precious Cargo at its best. The tiny start-up opened in the spring. Harrington and assistant director Katie Durand were two of only four staff members. And the program served only five children.
Keeney left the meeting impressed, with a stack of ABC Learn With Me business cards in her purse. Harrington went back to work.
That was Friday afternoon.
Within half an hour, parents were pressed together inside Precious Cargo. Some were crying. Some just stood in shock. Some typed furiously away at smart phones, trying to find someone to call, anyone who could help.
Anna Keeney took her daughter's artwork off the walls. Then she started handing out business cards.
"I headed right over to ABC after that," she says. So did a lot of other parents. And Harrington and Durand suddenly found themselves swamped.
"It was crazy," says Durand. "We had twenty, twenty-five parents in here signing their kids up the first night. We didn't get out of here until midnight."
"We've been here until midnight just about every night since," laughs Harrington. She and Durand have been taking phone calls from parents nearly constantly. If they leave the lights on after hours, Harrington says, parents will pull up in the driveway and knock on the door. What's worse, Precious Cargo's teachers instantly found themselves out of a job. Quite a few of them showed up at ABC Learn With Me, too.
"When the teachers found out about us, they started calling parents," says Durand. "They weren't concerned about whether they had a job or not. They were concerned about getting parents to know we were here."
Nonetheless, Harrington was able to hire twelve former Precious Cargo teachers. Denny Gage was one. She would have been at Precious Cargo for nine years in September. Harrington hired her Sunday morning.
"The worst part was learning the pre-K graduation would be cancelled," she says. "They told us that when they called us in [at 3 p.m. the day Precious Cargo closed.] And after that, we saw every single parent on Friday to tell them that Miss Denny and Miss Mary Kay would have graduation on our own if we had to."
"And thanks to ABC, we're having graduation on the 14th after all."
While ABC Learn With Me is hosting graduation for all of Precious Cargo's "victims" -- not just those who enrolled at ABC -- they weren't the only area day care to reach out to parents and teachers almost instantly, often through social media. Both teachers and children from Precious Cargo have found homes across Branford and the surrounding area.
On online forums, like the one for WTNH's coverage of the closure, day care operators advertised open slots. And the efforts made by many directors, like 's Susan Pavelko, have been praised among parents, who have used a closed-group Facebook page to share advice and recommendations.
Pavelko used Patch.com to reach out to parents affected by the closure.
"We have availability in the preschool and some spaces for children under three," she wrote. "The directors will be availble on Sunday morning from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. for tours and to giveout enrollment packets. With proper paperwork completed we can possibly enroll somje children immediately."
Pavelko wasn't the only one.
"The in Branford (Located on the green) currently has some openings," wrote director . "We are also looking for substitute teachers so if anyone from precious cargo would like to apply- give me a call."
Ripples from Precious Cargo's closing have reached Hartford. Assistant Attorney General Phillip Rosario opened an inquiry last week, sending a to Precious Cargo owner Jackie Giuliano asking for, among other things, information regarding the circumstances of the closing, tax liens and past due bills. Precious Cargo still maintains a location in Wallingford.
Meanwhile, Harrington and Durand are facing more sleepless nights in the future as ABC Learn With Me completely reinvents itself. The center had five students Friday afternoon; now they have well over a hundred. Harrington says paperwork alone would be enough to keep her busy most of her waking hours. But there's also the space issue. Right now, ABC Learn With Me's nine rooms are crowded with children. But more rooms are being readied.
"Everyone, really everyone, has helped out," Durand says. Teachers brought cots from Precious Cargo. Lakeshore Learning contributed tables and chairs. Port Security in New Haven chipped in with transportation. And at Thursday's graduation, parents will be collecting contributions to help buy playground equipment for the now-rescued refugees of Precious Cargo who found a new home at ABC Learn With Me.