Chesterton Tribune



YMCA buying Montessori building for Early Childhood Learning Center

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Celebrating the future: Everyone was smiling following the announcement of the acquisition of the Montessori School facility by the YMCA Monday evening. Pictured are, front, left to right, Erica Fields, Emma Kasarda, Heather Krueger, Kayla Lee, Y Early Learning Academy Director, Aaron Adcock, Jane Delligati, Y Marketing Director, and Shannon Spratley, YMCA Chief Operating Officer. Back row, Rich Gardner, Y Board President, Keith Kegebein, Nicole Kegebein, Suzanne Versteeg Radzik, Y Chief Financial Officer, Elizabeth Marks, Y Board member, Dave Kasarda Y CEO, and Y Board members Mike Uzelac, Rob Dorsey, Jon Winey and Jim Anton.

 (Tribune photo by Dana Gilbertson)


The Duneland YMCA has announced the purchase of the Chesterton Montessori School building and property at 200 E. Burdick Rd., which will become the new home of Y early learning programs. The facility is being purchased through the generosity of Dr. John and Linnea Forchetti. The facility will have a new name, The Forchetti Family YMCA Center for Early Learning, honoring the donors who have made it possible.

The announcement was first made public at a meeting Monday evening with parents of current Early Childhood Learning students. About 40 YMCA early childhood learning parents were on hand to hear the momentous news. “This building will be here for the community for the next 50 years or more,” said Dave Kasarda, Y CEO, in making the announcement. “This is huge.”

The new site will make it possible to expand the Y's early learning program and provides a whole laundry list of amenities such as a kitchen, indoor and outdoor eating areas, a multi-purpose room, a secure keyed entry, toilets in every classroom, additional indoor play space, floor to ceiling windows and acres of outdoor play space. The new Early Learning site is located in a picturesque setting where nature abounds. Large, expansive outdoor spaces provide classroom settings without walls, plentiful age-appropriate playgrounds and space for sports.

"This is an incredibly exciting time for the Duneland Family YMCA, and for the children and families of the Duneland communities. It's an opportunity to increase the quality of our care while doubling our capacity to serve children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. The YMCA provides a safe, nurturing environment while promoting each individual child's social, emotional, physical and intellectual development," said Kasarda.

Expanding educational


Duneland educators Jim and Terry Cavallo built, owned and operated the Montessori School for 36 years. "Jim and I have been in education for nearly five decades; it's been part of our whole lives. We believe the early education for each and every child is the best gift that we could give them,” Terry Cavallo said. “We are sad to be closing this chapter of our lives working directly with children, but we feel confident that the staff of the Duneland YMCA Early Learning Academy will use our former building to carry on early learning for even more children in the Duneland communities for years to come, and we know that our teachers will carry on Montessori education in a different location under the care of a new owner."

The 14,000 sq. foot facility is just 2 miles east of the current early learning center inside Chesterton Middle School, Sharon Spratley, Y Chief Operating Officer, said. The sprawling building and grounds includes 5.5 acres which will allow for outdoor sports and recreation.

"We looked at this opportunity solely to create the best possible environment for young children,” Spratley added.

Promoting healthy


Much more than simple day care, the Y's Early Learning Academy is the best of what research and common sense tell us kids need: healthy beginnings; positive interaction with caring adults; age appropriate learning activities; and plenty of time for fun and making friends.

"At the Y, helping kids and families thrive is at the heart of our mission to serve," said Spratley. "This acquisition will allow not only program growth, but also a means to upgrade educational ratings. Our involvement with Paths to QUALITYTM means we are committed to providing a safe, nurturing and professional environment where children can grow and learn." Presently, the Early Learning Academy is operating as a level 3 Paths to QUALITYTM Registered Ministry. When the Early Learning Academy moves to its new home it will become an Indiana State Licensed Center and continue working towards a Level 4 PTQ rating and National Accreditation, the State's highest rating.

The Duneland Family YMCA Board of Directors has spent the last three years researching the needs of the Duneland communities. A feasibility study conducted in 2018 indicated that leaders of the Duneland communities place a high value on quality, affordable, safe early childhood education representing a clear indication that it was imperative that the Y Early Learning Academy find a permanent home to continue their important work.

For the last 16 years the Duneland YMCA has been honored to share a joint vision and partnership with the Duneland School Corporation to provide quality education for all children under the age of five. Without the generosity and partnership of the DSC, the YMCA would not have been able to serve thousands of children.

Support from Forchetti family

During the feasibility study, Dr. John and Linnea Forchetti expressed an interest in providing all children of the Duneland communities an equal opportunity to have access to a safe, high quality learning environment to meet their developmental needs.

The Forchettis have always been supportive of the Y. John served on the Y Board of Directors. Their kids participated in Y swimming lessons at the first Y and later enjoyed the outdoor pool at the present location.

“The Duneland Family YMCA is an important facet of the community," John said. "It's always been a place where people can gather, and a safe place for Duneland children to learn, grow and thrive. We know that early childhood education is the key to success in life, and we're happy to be able to contribute to the new location for the Y Early Learning Academy. We want our gift to benefit community families."

Linnea pointed out that many families and single parents struggle to provide high quality early childhood education for their children. "That's where the Y steps in,” she said. “At the Y Early Learning Academy, all children have access to early childhood education in a safe, nurturing environment.’

“Without a commitment to the community and a willingness to share resources, a landmark purchase like this would never be attainable. Without the generosity of individuals like John and Linnea this wouldn’t be possible,” said Dave Kasarda. “The Duneland Family YMCA and the families of the Duneland communities will be forever grateful for the generous support of the Forchetti family.”

Parents concerns following the announcement centered around security, meal menus, and access to community activities, like the splash pad in Chesterton Park and the library.

All students currently enrolled with the Y will be ‘grandfathered in”Kasarda said. Enrollment will be opened up later this spring for additional students. Additional staff will be hired over the summer, Spratley said.

Closing on acquisition of the property is set for June 4, Kasarda told the parents, with occupancy set for the fall. “That day construction will begin to be sure the Y meets state licensing standards,” Kasarda said. This is the fourth childcare center he's been part of opening in his YMCA career and Kasarda said he’s been extremely impressed by the exceptional skills of the Duneland Y staff.

The current home of the Early Learning Center, in Chesterton Middle School, is space the Y hopes to continue to use for Y youth programming, until that space is needed by the Duneland School Corporation.

"The DSC has partnered with us for 19 plus years to build this early learning program," Kasarda said. "We're working with them on continued use of the space at CMS.”

Parents burst into a round of applause at the close of remarks and questions, and many left with big smiles on their faces, thinking of the future.

Gratitude and excitement

The Y made the announcement about the changes coming for the Early Learning Center in stages Monday, first to staff at a meeting in the late afternoon, then to parents of currently enrolled children at a meeting at 6 p.m.

The news, kept under wraps while the transfer of property and the supporting donation from the Forchetti’s was worked out, took many by surprise, but it is a happy surprise.

Staff are excited to have the new, expanded space and all the program offerings it will make possible. Parents and the community are excited for the educational opportunities for their children and future generations.

A simultaneous announcement was made on the YMCA Facebook page, getting the message out to parents unable to attend the meeting.

Reactions varied, with joy, excitement and gratitude topping the list. "The Forchetti Family has given our children a huge gift! Thanks Doc and Linnea!", said one. "This is amazing news! I'm crying with joy," said another, along with "Early childhood [education] is a great investment."

The Y has been serving the Duneland communities for more than fifty years focusing on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility to enrich lives and make Y programs and services available to all. They've partnered with local and regional organizations to provide better outcomes for youth, families and seniors in Duneland.

The Board of Directors and leadership of the Y would like to thank the Duneland School Corporation, the Forchetti Family, past and present parents and program participants, and Jim and Terry Cavallo for supporting its efforts.

For more information about the Forchetti Family YMCA Center for Early Learning contact Shannon Spratley, (219) 921-0183 or

For more information about the Duneland Family YMCA, contact Dave Kasarda, (219) 926-4204 or



Posted 3/12/2019






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