by Vicky Senni, Associate Director at Sara Holbrook Community Center
After serving the needs of our neighborhood for 81 years, the Sara Holbrook Community Center has come to a critical juncture in our history. We are nearing the end of a capital campaign that aims to improve and expand our building from 5,000 to 12,000 square feet. Our half-day, academic year preschool will become a year-round, full-day program. Toddler services for eight little ones will be implemented in partnership with Champlain Valley Head Start. After-school elementary care will increase from 36 to 58 children. We will add an art room, an indoor gym, a teaching kitchen and space for community dinners, along with a family conference room and a state of the art security system. Two renovated classrooms will continue to serve Vermont Adult Learning’s ELL students. At last, our playground and parking lot will have separate, dedicated spaces– no more mixing kids and cars!
We at Sara Holbrook Community Center, like our friends at Building Bright Futures, understand the need to work together, collaboratively to address the needs of children and families, and we are excited for the opportunity to expand our early care and learning programs and supports for parents. As a community center, it means that we’ll be serving new and different members of the families who currently use our services. When parents are taking English classes, kids can safely be in the care of our experienced early educators.
Our 5-STAR preschool program- a partnership with Champlain Valley Head Start- provides quality, nurturing care that supports the healthy development of 15 children, while allowing families to learn, work and build their lives in Vermont. Last year, three families began the year with homelessness status and ended the year with permanent residency. Six families became U.S. citizens. Seven families attended Vermont Adult Learning English classes. Two mothers began college in the fall, while one mother graduated from Burlington High School. All fifteen of our preschoolers had one or both parents working. The impacts of high-quality childcare extend from the child to the family to the greater community, positively impacting our society, workforce and economy along the way.
Continuity of care is foundational at SHCC. Our elementary after-school program serves some of our former SHCC preschoolers and siblings of current preschool students. 36 children from many different backgrounds come together every day to play, build and share in both the exciting and challenging aspects of growing up. We’re grateful to have over 50 volunteers throughout the year spending more than 500 hours with our elementary kids. Every day, the after school program is packed with activities like cooking, games, arts, crafts, gymnastics and other sports, reading, and learning with and from each other.
Our Teen Center is located at the Robert Miller Community Recreation Center in the New North End, and is open after school Monday through Friday until 5:30 for middle school students, and from 6 – 9 PM for high schoolers. It’s a cell phone-free, safe, supportive, fun and healthy environment for youth to learn new skills, connect with friends, and build confidence and self-knowledge. As one 13-yr-old put it, “It’s a place where you can be yourself.” This past year 488 youth had a space to cook and eat together, hold dance parties, play board games and sports, and get help with homework and applications for jobs and college.
Our enrichment program at Hunt Middle School, a partnership with the Burlington School District, served 263 students last year. With an incredible array of learning opportunities, this student-driven program offers a series of 5-week sessions that allow middle schoolers to explore new hobbies and potential career paths. Some highlights include a pottery class through Burlington City Arts, Girls on the Run, a sailing course at Lake Champlain Sailing Center, Junior Iron Chef, climbing at Petra Cliffs, and participating in Chamber Orchestra.
The fun and learning at SHCC continues at full speed over the summer. Our Youth Adventure Program is designed to provide access to and exploration of Vermont’s incredible array of outdoor offerings, taking middle schoolers around the state for hiking, biking, camping, water activities, and team building. 60 youth took part in this 6-week program, challenging themselves to grow both physically and emotionally through relationships, embracing new experiences and problem-solving as a group.
The Burlington-Winooski Middle School Summer Program is free and open to all middle school students in both districts, with transportation provided to and from camp and all off-site activities. 283 students participated in 50 program offerings, immersing themselves in sessions such as stop-motion animation, electronics design, woodworking, fly fishing, repurposed fashion design, music production, sailing, metal working, GPS mapping and so much more!
The younger kids take part in Summer World Academy, a collaboration with Burlington Parks and Recreation based at Sustainability Academy and enrolling 65 kindergarten through fifth grade students. Our enthusiastic and skilled staff led group field games, dance choreography sessions, creative paint and art projects, a hiking trip at Mt. Philo, and costume-making to participate in the Cardboard Box Parade on Church Street. Campers bussed to North Beach three afternoons each week. Daily games of basketball and soccer kept kids active outdoors, and trips to Fletcher Free Library gave them a chance to read, reflect and relax on hot summer days.
Some of our campers who are English language-learners, pre-K through ninth grade, spent the mornings in our New Arrivals program. Now in its 30th year, New Arrivals has consistently provided five weeks of summer English language learning in a classroom setting for 80 refugee and immigrant students. A partnership with Burlington and Winooski School Districts, this is a unique program consisting solely of ELL students. This year, students represented more than 10 nations and languages, and were from several different area schools, allowing them to make new friends and connect with peers as they worked to maintain and improve language skills. Each day from 8:30 AM to 12:00 PM consisted of hands-on learning in a literacy-rich environment, with one week of exploration at Shelburne Farms. 97% of students who were administered both pre and post assessment in English maintained proficiency or experienced growth.
As we discover the growing needs of our children and families, we work to adapt our services in order to address those needs. This is why we began our capital campaign to expand our North Avenue site. It is also why we house an emergency food pantry that serves 250 households each year; families who rely on regular visits. According to our friends at Hunger Free Vermont, the monthly shortfall for a family of four with two working adults, each making minimum wage, is $2,200. Food is an integral part of every program at SHCC, and a significant factor in the healthy development of our children. Without community support and donations, our food pantry shelves would be bare. The SHCC pantry supplies food, personal care items, diapers and other necessities. We’re fortunate to have many hands supporting this effort which allows us, in turn, to support families most in need.
It is difficult to measure the true benefits of providing educational and recreational opportunities that support the healthy social development of our current and future citizenry. Eleven hundred children come to Sara Holbrook Community Center each year for education, care, social development and recreation that enriches their lives. Providing a safe, supportive and welcoming environment for our community is what SHCC does each and every day. If we continue to reach out, link arms and expand our welcome, we can change the world one child, one family at a time. We hope you’ll come visit us, check out our space as we burst at the seams, and take part in expanding our welcome to children and families. Supporting children at the Sara Holbrook Community Center and beyond is key to creating the world we wish to see.