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Governor Emphasizes Child-Care Access at Bridgehampton Ribbon-Cutting

Thu, 08/24/2023 - 11:46
State and local officials, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, at center, celebrated the completed renovation of the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center alongside Bonnie Michelle Cannon, its executive director, on Friday.
Christine Sampson

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly renovated Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center on Friday served as a venue for Gov. Kathy Hochul to underscore New York State’s $7 billion investment in making child care more affordable and accessible for working parents.

The State Legislature is contributing $425,000 to the center’s $3.3 million overhaul, which saw the 70-year-old facility tripled in size up to 7,000 square feet, modernized, and equipped with amenities to support and encourage an underserved segment of youth in Bridgehampton and nearby areas. The ribbon cutting came after the bright and fresh new spaces had been in use for several months, but it was a hearty celebration nonetheless.

For the center, which was first established in the 1950s following the deaths of two children of migrant workers in a seasonal housing camp, the renovation was a long time coming. It had benefited over the years from donations and expansion projects that were somewhat piecemeal until a major capital campaign was launched to facilitate the overhaul.

The Rev. Tisha Dixon-Williams of the First Baptist Church of Bridgehampton opened the ceremony with a prayer invoking “the spirit of community, culture, and collaboration.”

“We express our heartfelt appreciation to all those who have contributed their time, skills, and resources to bring this endeavor to fruition,” she said, “and as we stand here in this moment of anticipation, we ask for your divine presence to bless this center and all those who walk through its doors. May it be a sanctuary of inspiration, creativity, and compassion.”

Governor Hochul — who was at the Montauk Lighthouse for a celebration less than 48 hours before — reflected on her own experiences as a working mother, telling the crowd gathered in Bridgehampton on Friday that early in her career she had to leave a job she loved when she couldn’t find care for her infant child, and as a result her family had to make ends meet on one parent’s income instead of two.

“This new facility will help expand access to the high-quality child-care options and educational programs families in the East End and across Long Island deserve,” said the governor, who had attended the Bridgehampton center’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2020. “By investing in this state-of-the-art facility, we are investing in working parents and giving them the support they need to remain in the work force while providing their kids with academic enrichment and care.”

Also speaking at the ceremony, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. called the center’s programs “a lifeline for working families.”

“New York’s investment in the center is not just in bricks and mortar, but in the future of our community,” he said. “The center, deeply rooted in our history and driven by compassion, has nurtured the well-being of East End children and families since the tragic fire in the 1950s that spurred its creation. . . . Together, we are building a foundation of hope and opportunity that will uplift generations to come.”

The center’s executive director, Bonnie Michelle Cannon, appeared overjoyed — nearly overcome with emotion — and expressed gratitude to the many supporters, including one she described as the center’s “angel,” Barbara Slifka.

From its origins in tragedy, Ms. Cannon said, “to have this vision become a reality, the community has come together again. . . . And for that, I say to all of you, thank you. The center is so very needed, and it’s a diamond in the rough.”

Not only does the center offer educational support, sports and arts programs, and fun activities for kids, it also operates a food pantry and hosts cultural events, lectures, and career-oriented services for adults.

“We need to look not only at the children’s education, but their moms, their dads, their families, their well-being at home, their health, their wealth equity — those are all the things that we do here at the center,” Ms. Cannon said.

In its next phase of improvements, the center is setting its sights on adding a swimming pool, she said, for which it will need additional funding.

Governor Hochul’s comments resonated with Timothy Frazier, executive director of the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center in East Hampton, who was on hand to help celebrate. For example, he said, through a state grant program, Whitmore center staff members will be able to each receive a bonus of $3,000 for their service to the community during the Covid-19 pandemic, when they provided tuition-free care for children of essential workers.

“Her continual support and passion for child care has really made a difference for us at Eleanor Whitmore, and for all child-care centers throughout the state,” Mr. Frazier said.

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