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May 28, 2020 – COVID-19 has spared no one or no event, including the Branford Early Childhood Collaborative's (BECC) annual Week of the Young Child ™ Celebration, April 11-17.But not even a pandemic could stop the passion and dedication of the nonprofit's board members, volunteers and staff, along with area businesses, who all came together to ensure everyone had the opportunity to celebrate early literacy and emerging readers. It was community involvement at its best.
"We had to re-think every aspect of the event, yet when you live in a town like Branford where so many people are committed to the needs of our young children and their families, you just know the results will be memorable. That was the story of our 10th annual Week of the Young Child Celebration," said Robin Comey, Executive Director of the BECC. "It turned out to be a celebration of a community dedicated to the future educational success of many of its young children."
It was a challenging journey, though.
BECC is the core of the town's collective effort to ensure that all Branford children are healthy, prepared and developmentally ready to enter the school system. But COVID-19 challenged the organization and its partners to pivot quickly to address an environment that seemed unthinkable just months ago.
In a typical year, BECC gives out 1000 free books through its One Book One Town program and holds a Downtown Preschool Art Walk, showcasing the young artist's interpretation of the storybook in merchant windows in the center of Branford.
The book selections have themes that embrace inclusiveness, compassion, diversity and community building. Since the inception of Annual Week of the Child in 2010, over 8000 books have been given to Branford children.
In addition, over the years BECC has brought a variety of family friendly events to the Branford Green, complete with musical entertainment and community-building projects, such as Community Conversations with a documentary movie screening and last year's Talking Early Childhood, a half-day workshop for families and teachers.
This year, faced with the dramatic rise of COVID-19 cases and the ensuing chaos it created, the Week of the Young Child committee acted quickly to resolve the uneven distribution of books and the uncertainty of whether children would be back in classrooms after April vacation. The book, Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson, was already purchased but everything else had to be totally re-worked.
"We need to thank the contributions of long time BECC friend, Judy Doyle of Ms. Judy's Emporium. Her valuable input and guidance helped us move quickly to create free online content for the children," said Comey, adding, "...how apropos that Too Many Carrots is a story that shows how friendships can get us over the rough spots in life, and Judy stepped up when we needed her most. I'm grateful for her developing a consistent program and themes for children to experience online that are so helpful to them during these uncertain times."
Also providing vital services by creating a virtual experience during the celebration were some local businesses, including FiredUp Pottery, Full of Joy Yoga, Musical Folk and watercolor artist Rolandas Dabrukas. All were generous with their time, producing videos either live or recorded that BECC posted to its Facebook page and website.
Other highlights during the re-imagined Week of the Young Child were 10-year-old Aurora from Shelley's Garden Center who held court with a basket of real live bunnies and chicks, providing an adorable chirping soundtrack to her story time. Also, Miss Erica from the Branford Department of Recreation, along with her kids, shared a story and craft time in an effort to connect counting the members of families to the importance of the 2020 Census, which BECC has been promoting.
On the last night of the week-long celebration, April 17, a group of talented young adults from Focus Teen Improv prepared a live dramatic re-telling of Too Many Carrots via Zoom under the guidance of Handful Production's Lara Morton. And, to share the nutritional benefits of carrots, Miss Kathy from Kidsteps Birth to 3 and Mrs. Cellini from Sliney Elementary School provided instructional videos on how to cook homemade carrot muffins.
Every year, the excitement of the Week of the Young Child is carried over to an online giving event for nonprofits, called The Great Give. Over a 48-hour period, BECC invited supporters to recognize Teacher Appreciation Week and make donations on behalf of a special teacher in their lives. Robin Golia, the Director of ABC Learn with Me, made a donation in honor of all her staff that have continued to come to work each day through COVID-19.
"Without my staff, I couldn't be open, so a huge thank you to all of them," said Golia. "A huge thank you to all my parents, for those who are still attending I am thankful we can be there for you. And a huge thank you to Robin at BECC for all the hard work she does to help and support the childcare centers."
BECC raised $1,427 during The Great Give and the support will allow BECC to reinvest in teachers, including those participating in the Roundtable Professional Development program.
All 2020 Week of the Young Child online content can still be found at www.branfordbecc.org or on BECC's Facebook page (@BranfordEarlyChildhoodCollaborative).
The 2020 guide to the Madison Chamber of Commerce has arrived!