Jennifer LaMaina had been a social worker for much of her life, working with Child Protective Services in New York City and serving as a director for senior care centers on the North Fork.
But it wasn’t until she became a mother to her sons, Jasper and Joseph, that Ms. LaMaina said she realized there was a lack of day care options for local families.
“I just really diverted from working with the older population to children, because when I had my two children I was spending so much time with them and it was fun,” she said.
Ms. LaMaina, who lives in Aquebogue, is the owner and director of a new day care center on Union Avenue in downtown Riverhead: Bright and Early Discoveries, which is located in a renovated former house. The business had a soft opening this week.
“I saw a need for affordable quality day care in the community,” she said. “I just thought that I could do something — not better — but provide something different.”
Ms. LaMaina, a registered family day care provider, never pursued opening a business at her home. Instead, she sought out Bright and Early Discoveries’ location: a two-story house that had gone into foreclosure. Ms. LaMaina and her husband, Marc, who owns the Greenport restaurant Lucharitos, purchased the house in March and have been working to retrofit it as a day care ever since.
Ms. LaMaina said she’s keeping class sizes small, with just 16 toddlers admitted to the facility at one time. Doing so will help the staff focus on children individually, she said. The center will adhere to a ratio of one child care provider for every five children.
Bright and Early Discoveries will provide children with breakfast, lunch and two snacks from the house’s kitchen. Breakfast will also be available for parents.
“Most places don’t offer that,” Ms. LaMaina said.
Ms. LaMaina said her goal is to provide quality care at a reasonable price.
“I want it to be where parents are not struggling,” she said. “I still have that social worker in me. I want to help the world.”
Among Ms. LaMaina’s employees is Marianne McClean, a preschool teacher she met while taking her own children to another day care center.
“We just clicked,” Ms. McClean said. “I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm.”
Ms. McClean said Bright and Early Discoveries will focus on teaching, with activities related to math, music, language and vocabulary.
“It’ll be exciting,” she said.
Last week, Ms. LaMaina was tidying up the day care and preparing a stack of branded T-shirts to distribute to parents and children. In the house’s former living room, Ms. McClean sat with Jasper, 2, and Joseph, 3, running through lessons.
Ms. LaMaina only moved to the North Fork a few years ago, but she said she feels a responsibility to improve her community. She hopes her new day care will help in some small way.
“This is my home now,” she said.
Photo caption: Jennifer LaMaina, owner of Bright and Early Discoveries day care center on Union Avenue in downtown Riverhead, waits by the entrance of her business with her sons Jasper (left) 2, and Joseph, 3. (Credit: Paul Squire)