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INTERVIEW: Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center Executive Director Bonnie Michelle Cannon On Breaking Ground On The New Center, Pivoting Because Of The Pandemic And More

Nicole Barylski

Bonnie Michelle Cannon helps demolish the old building. (Photo: Kimberly Goff)

While 2020 has brought many challenges, one bright spot for the East End is the groundbreaking of a much needed new Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center home. The momentous occasion was fêted during a ceremony last month that included the demolition of the original farmhouse.

"The outpouring of love and generosity from our community and New York State has been amazing. We are so grateful that The Center's dream of a new building is becoming a reality," Bonnie Michelle Cannon, Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center Executive Director, said. "The New York State grant award truly gave us the momentum that we needed to raise the additional funds to build. Special thanks to Assemblyman Fred Thiele and ESD's Denise Zani who helped guide us through the process. Our children and families thank you. We are feeling blessed."

We chatted with Cannon about the exciting endeavor - a project that has been more than four years in the making, The Center's vital services and more.

What will the new building be utilized for?

BMC: It's going to be utilized for our food pantry, it's going to be utilized for our administrative offices, it's going to be utilized for all of our educational programs. It'll be utilized for when we have outside artists come in to do art classes or ceramic classes. So all art, music classes will take place in this building.

We'll have a computer lab within this building, we're looking at, in the basement, a multi purpose community room that can be utilized for events - a little mini type theater with a stage for performances or for speakers or for different engagements.

We're also looking at having a washer and dryer down there. Also, it'll have a shower. That will be down there for emergency cases, if we need that as well to serve the community. It'll have a regular kitchen, not a commercial, as well that'll be down in the basement. And then we'll have conference rooms and enough adequate office space for the teachers and staff. It'll have bathrooms, bathrooms, the building that we were in before had one bathroom. That is something that people don't understand, but it is a highlight for us that we'll have more than one bathroom and the bathroom will not just be on the first floor. It'll have an elevator in it. It'll have this wonderful wraparound porch that in the summertime, we can utilize that to actually do classes on and to have the kids outside on the campus.

How long will the construction process take?

BMC: What we're hoping for is anywhere from ten to 12 months. Of course I'm looking at ten... The house has been demolished. So it's completely down. There's no more house there at all. But, in the house we had a brick chimney, and on that brick chimney, which was in our living room, we had the Thinking Forward Lecture Series. It all started in our building, in our living room, and individuals would come in the living room and we would invite guests - and Gini Booth, she passed away, actually came up with this. Gini's father was a civil rights activist and Gini is known for Literacy Suffolk. She was saying, you know, we really should leave people's spirits here. So, anybody that came to speak, they would write their name and just a nice little model on the brick. So, we have this chimney that has everybody's name and signatures on it and little sayings. We did keep that and that'll be in the building.

How many children and families is The Center serving right now?

BMC: Right now, about 100 or 150 families. We're licensed to have 37 or 38 kids in our after school program, by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. Now with the expanding, we'll be able to have more kids there. We already have a teen program with about 20 teens. We have a college prep program, we have about ten kids there. During the summertime, when we have a summer program on our entire campus, we have probably anywhere from 75 to 100 kids that are on our campus during the summer. Head Start is on our campus now and they have about 44 kids - that's for the preschool, for the three to five-year-olds. We also have community wide events with health clinics and different outreach and awareness sessions as well.

The Center really stepped up its efforts in response to the pandemic. Could you speak a bit about that?

BMC: When the pandemic first hit, we had to pivot very quickly with a food pantry that we had. We were just servicing our after school families - about 70 individuals that we were servicing monthly. It quickly rose to about 700 individuals that we service weekly.

The other thing that we did also, is we checked with our families that are at The Center, and around in the community that we have been servicing, to find out how they were doing. The main question was: is everybody still working? Or is nobody working? Or is it just one person working now? A lot of times we got the answer back that nobody was working, or only one person was working because they had to stay home with the children. So, we also created emergency assistance. We did give out emergency assistance, directly to those families that were in urgent need. We're still doing that a little bit now, but we gave out about 40 or 45 emergencies that were specific to our children and families and to our college students as well. For our small families, it was $250 and for a large family, we gave them $500. We did that because we know our clientele that we're servicing, and a lot of people, they need the food, they need the meal - that takes out an added expense, I do understand that. But, at the same time, you can't use the food to pay a light bill. People need money. So, a lot of families are very grateful to get these checks.

From an educational standpoint, we had to pivot because most of our kids, we were meeting them face-to-face, in person and so we had to pivot. We pivoted very quickly into a virtual after school support program for our children, which means that I had to hire more teachers, because, versus a physical classroom where you may have 15 or 17 kids in a classroom with one or two teachers, you can't do that virtually. It just doesn't work. So, we had to pare it down to maybe four or five kids. And then some of our kids needed one on one help and they didn't do well with being in that type of setting. So, we had individualized virtual sessions. I had to ramp up my teachers and that as well.

What upcoming programming is on the horizon at The Center?

BMC: One of the things that I'm very, very happy about, and is also kind of in response to the pandemic, but it was something that I always knew, but it's needed even more now than ever, especially with everything that's going on, the racial tensions and just the chaos that's happening right now in the world. I created it's called Teach Me How To Fish Work Training Program. We, at The Center, have different services and programs to that we offer. We were hitting the five to 13-year-olds, the families that were in need, the teens, the college prep, but what about those individuals right now that are 18 and up that for whatever reason, college was not an alternative for them, or they went to college and for whatever reason, they're here, and they have their degree, but they're working at a retail store, making $13/$14 an hour? We created a Teach Me How To Fish Workforce Training Program, which is industry tracks, we look at industry tracks. Right now, I'm piloting a STEM industry, for science, technology, engineering, and math. What we do is we try to find entry level options for individuals to create careers that are going to give them a decent salary so that they can live and they can survive. Right now, we've partnered with We Connect The Dots, which is a software engineering bootcamp. We also do field training. I have five individuals that are going through our Teach Me How To Fish Workforce Training Program. We were able to do it via private donors that helped us to make that possible.

We're adding a real estate industry track, which is going to be kicking off in November, and people will be able to come through that program and learn about real estate, get their real estate agency, and actually join a team of some of the local realtors that are here. The number of people of color real estate agents and brokers that are out here in the Hamptons, we don't have it. We're try to increase the diversity there.

We're looking at the trades and working with some of the unions to get people into that. I'm really, really excited about that. We were awarded a $25,000 grant from the Long Island Community Foundation from Long Island Racial Equity to help us to plan and to create this program. We've just partnered with Willie Jenkins on Zenith, a youth program at The Center, and he's going to be working with the teens, teaching them about different cultures and ethnicities - because at The Center, it's always important for our kids to know who they are and where they came from. So, we're adding that, I'm very excited about that.

We've also created what we call a huddle team. A huddle team is where we have some of our experts - psychologists, social workers, college prep - we get together every other week and we huddle and we talk about our college prep kids. We talk about some of our young adults and try to figure out how we can service them better.

We have our conversations series, we have Mr. Doug doing the healthy nutrition live. We're hitting and we're addressing all levels, all things that are within the community. We're more than just a childcare center. That's why we rebranded ourselves and we call ourselves The Center - because we do more than that.

For more information, visit www.bhccrc.org.


Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski





Added: November 18, 2020, 2:46 pm
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