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10/04/2017 01:48 PM

A Continuing Mission Evolves: Branford Early Childhood Collaborative Turns 16

BECC's new Dental Education Kit is one of several new programs supporting BECC's ongoing mission. The program involves the collaboration of Branford Exchange Club and Mendillo Family Denistry of Branford. Shown here, (l-r) are Exchange member Seth Taber, Exchange President Bob Aceto, DIrector of BECC Robin Comey, DDS Hillary Mendillo and Exchange Secretary Jack Mushin.Photo by Mary Johnson for BECC

At 16 years old, Branford Early Childhood Collaborative (BECC), once a grassroots group, is evolving to meet its continuing mission. Now in the process of becoming a 501 (c)3 non-profit, BECC also has a newly established, 15-person Board of Directors chaired by Dr. Bruce Storm Ed.D. 

The new direction grew out of a change in funding support. For many years, BECC was largely funded with support from the Graustein Memorial Fund and operated under the umbrella of United Way of Greater New Haven. As both affiliations drew to a close in 2016; supporters of BECC undertook plans to form BECC into its own non-profit organization.

BECC's new board members and BECC's part-time Director Robin Comey have spent the past months honing BECC's focus on helping Branford's diverse families and caregivers of the town's youngest residents connect with opportunities to help kids grow into healthy, productive citizens.

"We have people on our board that have a lot of skill sets in a lot of different areas," said Comey. "They are excited to continue what we do."

BECC's new strategic plan seeks to benefit Branford kids and families directly by expanding access and improving quality of care in childcare settings for children ages 0 – 3. BECC also will work to reach out to every parent of a Branford newborn to offer support and training for healthy, safe and stimulating early child development.

Going forward, BECC hopes to continue to gather funding from sources ranging from grants to community support. Funds are needed to support an annual operating budget of approximately $50,000 per year. Unfortunately, state spending cuts are already being felt by BECC this year. For example, funding from the state's Office of Early Childhood, which provided Branford with approximately $16,000 last year, was "zeroed out" this year, said Comey. Other funding BECC was able to gather and implement in 2016 included a large grant of $25,000 from Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, to support programming and associated costs. In addition, Branford Community Foundation (BCF) provided a $5,000 grant to assist BECC.

As BECC moves forward, it has kept many of its popular programs, such as the monthly Early Educator Round Table series (September – May) and annual Branford "Week of the Young Child" celebration events and activities; while also focusing on launching new programs to strengthen outreach efforts.   BECC also continues to collaborate on programs by working other Branford organizations and the town.

With the BCF grant,  BECC published its Branford Children's Resource Guide in Spanish for the first time (June 2017) as well as English. According to statistics published in BECC's "Community Report: Status of Branford Children" (June 2015) Branford is becoming increasingly diverse, with the report stating "...the largest growth in population increases can be identified with Hispanic (59% growth increase in last four years) followed by Asian and African Americans."

"One of our goals is to provide literacy awareness and activities and provide resources to our diverse community, which is growing," said Comey.

BECC is also working to provide other new programs and opportunities for families and caregivers to support the healthy development of Branford's children.  All programs can be found at BECC's newly designed website here .

"We are working on more outreach for family care providers," said Comey. "We're doing a business series here in Branford for family care business owners to improve their skill sets when it comes to how to run a business."

The free ten-week series, offered through BECC by "All Our Kin" kicks off Wednesday Oct. 4 and runs through Dec. 13. Classes meet at Trinity Episcopal Church Parish Hall (on the Branford green) Wednesdays from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. For more information, email or call (203) 415-5237.

Another new program offered by BECC is a Dental Education Kit, which meets BECC's continuing effort to provide dental education opportunities to children in early care centers. BECC points out that dental disease is the number one preventable chronic disease in children. The kit includes a "Good Food/Bad Food" lesson plan and other educational tools. A recent contribution of some 300 neon-hued toothbrushes from Branford Exchange Club ensures BECC can provide free toothbrushes to all children receiving the lesson. The program also has the support of Mendillo Family Dentistry of Branford.

"These will be loaned out to daycare centers and pre-schools, and they'll do their lesson plans with the dental education kit, and then each child takes home a toothbrush and a brochure," said Comey. "The brochure includes information about the importance of dental care, and making sure kids are seeing the dentist earlier," as well as outreach to assist in connecting eligible families to available dental plan health care.

As for the long term, the new BECC board has developed a three-year strategic plan to meet Branford's growing and changing needs. The plan includes the goals of supporting the development of family care businesses in Branford; offering home visiting service to receptive families of newborns to provide basic screening, parent training and connection to community services; and to identify specific needs of non-English speaking minority population and low-income families and provide resources.