Hometown Hero: Sweeney built a child care center that meets family needs

  • Cheryl Sweeney, owner and director of the Whole Child Center in Tilton, reads to a group of one-year-olds on Friday. Eileen O’Grady / Monitor staff

  • Cheryl Sweeney, owner and director of the Whole Child Center in Tilton, reads to a group of one-year-olds on Aug. 12, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • Cheryl Sweeney, owner and director of the Whole Child Center in Tilton, reads to a group of one-year-olds on Friday. Eileen O’Grady / Monitor staff

  • Cheryl Sweeney, owner and director of the Whole Child Center in Tilton, reads to a group of one-year-olds on Aug. 12, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/14/2022 6:24:28 PM

On a recent Friday morning, Cheryl Sweeney stepped through a tiny gate into the play area of the one-year-old classroom at Whole Child Center in Tilton, crouching down to greet the babies who gathered around her delightedly. Sweeney, the childcare center’s founder and director, loves popping in to read picture books with the one-year-olds, and the babies like seeing Sweeney so much that a few usually cry when she leaves the room.

“I’ve always had a passion for young children, watching children grow and developing positive relationships,” Sweeney said. “People do not give children enough credit. They’re very, very smart, brilliant little beings, and I’ve always had a pleasure of watching that grow.”

Sweeney started the Whole Childcare Center in 1987. Sweeney, who had a degree in early childhood and special education, was working at a consortium for children with special needs when she got the idea to start her own center. At the time, there were very few preschool programs for children with special needs and Sweeney decided that she wanted to offer a facility for all children, regardless of their abilities.

“I was like, ‘if I’m going to have and promote a childcare center, I wanted to be the best that it can be,” Sweeney said. “It’s not without flaws or without challenges, but just the best that it can be.”

“I said, ‘well, I’ll just keep going until somebody tells me no,’ and fortunately, nobody told me no,” Sweeney laughed. The center will celebrate 35 years in September.

The center has changed over the years according to the needs of the community, shifting its focus from preschool to childcare as local school districts expanded their preschool offerings, and enrolling more babies as the demand for infant care grew. Today, the Whole Child Center’s enrollment is usually 90 to 100 students who are infants, and pre-school and kindergarten age.

Sweeney has watched multiple generations of families from the tightly-knit Tilton community cycle through her center – some of the same parents who used to come by to pick up their children are now grandparents who are arriving to pick up their grandchildren.

“It feels it feels more like family,” Sweeney said. “I want the families to feel that they're like dropping them off at a relative's or a friend's home, not a typical childcare center.”

Sweeney’s passion for the work is evident in the center's traditions which include themed weeks throughout the summer like ‘Olympic week’ featuring games and medals, ‘construction week’ with a touch-a-truck event, and ‘Hawaiian week’ with flower garlands, music and dancing.

 “When children feel safe and secure, they're happy,” Sweeney said. “The academic things will come, but they need to feel safe and secure about themselves and the environment they're in.”

Working with families is something that’s important to Sweeney, who says the changes she makes to meet families’ needs are repaid through help from the community. At the start of the pandemic for example, the Whole Childcare Center offered kindergarten to families who needed it, when the school districts weren’t operating in person. Now, as childcare centers around the state struggle to maintain adequate staffing, Sweeney says some families have voluntarily kept their children home when the Whole Child Center's low-staff days align with days the parents are working from home, allowing the center to maintain the student-teacher ratio and remain open for the families who needed it. 

“I couldn't do it without the families,” Sweeney said. “When I thought I wasn't going to make it, they would always say something that makes me feel like that we're doing the right thing.”

Sweeney lives in Hill with her husband and daughter. Her business keeps her busy, but when she’s not working she enjoys spending time with family, visiting friends and trying new restaurants around the region. 

She is hesitant to take credit for the work she does, saying she couldn’t be successful without the support of her fellow staff members. 

“I’m only doing what every other director does, they all deserve recognition,” Sweeney said. “It really has so much value.”


Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.



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