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Barbara’s House opens doors

By Alma Rutgers

Originally published in Greenwich Time Aug. 18, 2023.

Texts from the parents are telling.

“We are grateful for this program! You guys are amazing.”

“Every day is a new adventure! Thank you so much!”

“M … is having the absolute best time! She feels so loved and never wants to leave!”

Barbara’s House (formerly Community Centers, Inc., or CCI) in Greenwich provided a host of activities in its Summer Program. Contributed Photo/Barbara's House

Known as the Summer Program, it’s long been featured in the network of services at Barbara’s House. This year the Summer Program provided six weeks of summer enrichment for 24 elementary and middle school students.

Barbara’s House, established in 1955 (formerly Community Centers, Inc., or CCI) has been serving the Greenwich community for nearly 70 years as a social service agency “dedicated to building skills that empower clients to overcome educational, social, and economic barriers.”

Full disclosure: I chair the Barbara’s House board.

Among the programs and services that our agency offers are homework clubs, tutoring, after-school activities, therapeutic counseling, and supportive social groups for clients of all ages, including teens, seniors, and special needs adults. Clients have historically been, for the most part, residents of developments that belong to Greenwich Communities (formerly Greenwich Housing Authority) or housed through the federal Section 8 program.

To be eligible for the Barbara’s House Summer Program, which serves elementary and middle school students, the student must qualify for free, or reduced price, school lunch. Barbara’s House does not ask families to disclose their incomes, asking only if their children meet that lunch threshold.

Unlike other Greenwich summer programs, this one is free of charge to all participants, which opens doors that would otherwise be closed to them.

Barbara’s House (formerly Community Centers, Inc., or CCI) in Greenwich provided a host of activities in its Summer Program. Contributed Photo/Barbara's House

The Summer Program also differs from many other programs in its explicit intent to prevent summer learning loss. Recreational activities are infused with learning opportunities, and reading is encouraged. While students at all socio-economic levels experience learning loss during the summer, the students that Barbara’s House serves are at far greater risk than those from more financially well-off families.

For the past three years, according to Barbara’s House Executive Director Gaby Rattner, all participants in the Summer Program have returned to school at the end of the summer with a reading level that’s at, or above, their June starting level.

This summer, in partnership with the Bruce Museum, Barbara’s House was able to give participants an opportunity to tour the museum galleries one day a week and then develop their own related projects. Another valuable learning opportunity in which participants designed their own projects was made possible through a partnership with the Greenwich Library Innovation Lab.

Among the new recreational activities that participants engaged in this year were horseback riding and a special pingpong opportunity offered by CRUSH Table Tennis. Field trips every week included visits to the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, Playland Park in Rye, N.Y., he Malcolm Pray Achievement Center, and berry picking at Silverman’s Farm in Easton. Also included in the activities were important safety programs.

In partnership with the Greenwich YMCA, which provided regular use of its swimming pool, Barbara’s House offered water safety classes. Eight participants, who began the summer unable to swim, passed the swimming test that qualified them to swim in deep water. Bicycle safety was also at the forefront, with Bob DeAngelo offering his expertise in conducting bicycle safety clinics. On the final day of the Summer Program, all participants regardless of their skill level had an opportunity to bicycle at Greenwich Point.

The town provided the passes for Greenwich Point and Island Beach, and every Friday participants went swimming at one of the beaches where each week ended with a barbecue. On the program’s final Friday, Aug. 11, parents joined the barbecue celebration at Greenwich Point, and all program participants received backpacks filled with high quality back-to-school supplies provided by Neighbor to Neighbor.

Neighbor to Neighbor. YMCA. CRUSH Table Tennis. Greenwich Library. Bruce Museum. Town of Greenwich. Many such partnerships within the community have helped make the 2023 Summer Program possible and successful.

“This summer was the best program we’ve done,” said Rattner, crediting her staff for their “extraordinary job … both in conceiving and executing” the activities.

The Summer Program’s enriching activities, year after year, help level the playing field for Greenwich young people who are at a learning disadvantage in this affluent community.


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