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Molly Butts, left, and Cali Cobb, both Child and Youth program assistants on Fort Drum, are working at the same facilities where each had previously interned while pursuing an associate degree in early childhood education at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, New York. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)


Two Army spouses with passion for child care
join CDC staff after successful internships


Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs


FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Nov. 8, 2018) – Cali Cobb and Molly Butts knew from an early age that they wanted careers working with children. Both Army spouses are now doing that, thanks to a partnership between Fort Drum and Jefferson Community College.

Cobb is a Child and Youth program assistant at Po Valley Child Development Center on Fort Drum, and Butts is a CYPA at the Chapel Drive CDC.

It wasn’t too long ago when they were there as interns – each pursuing an associate degree in the early childhood program at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, New York.

“I’m the second youngest of 10 kids in my family, so I’ve been surrounded by other kids my whole life,” said Butts. “I always knew I wanted to work with children.”

Butts began her studies at the State University of New York at Potsdam but transferred to JCC to be closer to her husband, who is assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (LI).

At the start of the semester, she met Claudia Whitmire, CYS outreach services administrator, who was informing students about internship opportunities.

“During the last two years,” Whitmire said, “we recognized the value of outreach to JCC to encourage students to do their internships, because we want to recruit prospective employees who have a passion for quality early childhood education.”

Gwen Francis-Frey, associate professor and department chair for early childhood and education at Jefferson Community College, said that degree requirements include 90 hours of field work, which students can find at local child care centers, Head Start classrooms and pre-K programs.

“The degree program was originally designed for students to go directly into the workforce, but so many transfer on now because they want to get that public school certification,” she said.

Francis-Frey said that students usually complete all of their introductory classes before starting field work in age groups 3 to 5 years and birth to 36 months.

“Sometimes there are not enough placements in the community for infants and toddlers, so Fort Drum really helps out the students with that group,” she said.

Butts said that the internship was the most rewarding experience she had as a student.

“Getting to actually work with the kids was probably the best thing we could do,” she said. “Creating lesson plans and trying them out, seeing how they worked – I learned a lot from that.”

From the first day, Butts said that she felt part of a team of caring professionals.

“I didn’t realize how amazing it would be,” Butts said. “I felt immediately welcomed. From the get-go, it was really a family atmosphere. You’re not treated like just a staff member – you’re family in this building, and everyone treats each other as such.”

Butts said that she completed her field study between January and May, interning about 10 hours per week.

“What really made me want to work here was getting to interact with the kids every day,” she said. “I realized, ‘how could I leave this place after the internship ends?’ I really didn’t want it to end.”

Butts applied for a CYPA position the week after she received her associate degree, not knowing she would return to the same CDC.

“It was pretty amazing to go to the front desk that first day, and hear ‘Hey, we know you,’” she said. “It felt so good to be back here.”

Whitmire said that new CYPAs attend two weeks of orientation training, and then they are shadowed by experienced program assistants through a supervised work experience where they observe classroom activity.

“Observations are conducted by CYS management staff to ensure the newly hired CYPA is following correct procedures,” Whitmire said.

Butts described being a program assistant as someone who can do a little bit of everything – from changing diapers to comforting a cranky child, reassuring a stressed parent and celebrating family milestones.

“It’s hard to explain because it is so broad in what you do day-to-day,” she said. “You’re there when they nap and when they eat, and you get to experience so much of their development. It can be bittersweet because while they’re never going to remember you, because of how young they are, you will always remember them.”

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges. Butts said that a bad day is usually when things snowball all at once – there’s an upset parent at the front desk, a child with soaked-through clothing needs to be changed and fed, and then another toddler starts wailing uncontrollably.

“Sometimes it happens all at the same time, and you know that the staff just needs to take a moment to get it all together,” she said. “In our room, everyone has such a great sense of humor that when that happens, we can turn it into a fun moment and get through it.”

Cobb went into the internship with a little more experience than Butts, having worked as a substitute teacher at multiple grade levels in local school districts. While attending JCC last fall, Cobb completed her first internship in a universal pre-K program.

“Then this past spring semester I came to the CDC to do my infant and toddler internship, and I knew this was where I needed to be,” Cobb said. “I need to work with these children.”

The internship at Po Valley CDC lasted from March until May, and then Cobb heard about the job opening in July.

“I was comfortable because I knew some of the staff members already,” she said. “It was kind of weird because I had to keep telling myself that I’m still a newbie here, even though I had interned here.”

Still, Cobb said that she found it easy to get back into the routine.

“I just sat on the floor and began reading to most of them, they calmed down, and it was fun,” she said. “It was nice because some of the kids in my classroom now were in the other classroom when I interned and they remembered me. I felt like I fit in.”

Cobb said that part of her goal in earning her associate degree was to prepare her Family for transitioning out of the Army. Her husband, a chaplain’s assistant in 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, is preparing to retire in January, and they will remain in the area. Cobb said that she is ready for a role-reversal now.

“Now it’s his turn to be the stay-at-home dad, while I’m at work,” she said, with a laugh. “I think we’re finally at the right time for that to finally happen.”

Cobb said there is no simple way to explain the passion she developed for child care.

“I don’t know exactly what it is – this job pays in hugs,” she said. “It’s really rewarding in a way I don’t think I could get from any other kind of job. If you can make a difference in the life of one child in a positive way, that’s the best thing I could do.”