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04/24/2013 12:00 AM

Bringing Branford 'Week of the Young Child'

Shown here with her children Michael and Maddie, Robin Comey is a driving force behind the creative programs going on in town during Branford Early Childhood Collaborative's Week of the Young Child (WOYC). WOYC culminates in events on the Branford Green this Saturday, April 27.

Robin Comey has helped Week of the Young Child (WOYC) become very visible in Branford.

The vice-chair of Branford Early Childhood Collaborative (BECC) spent three months working as a consultant to BECC, stretching WOYC activities into several weeks of early childhood literacy programming. WOYC culminates on Saturday, April 27 in several events on the Branford Green.

Beginning at 9 a.m., "We are inviting preschool families to walk on Team BECC for Small Hands, Big Hearts to raise funds for Community Dining Room's Walk-a-thon," says Robin.

From noon to 3 p.m., families are encouraged to help build a Branford "box town" replica on the Green, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony (BECC will recognize state and local Children's Champions). At 3 p.m., BECC's Pre-School ArtWalk showcases youthful artwork on display in downtown shop windows; including photos of kids with box creations inspired by BECC's April 9 to 27 WOYC Books for Branford initiative.

By visiting all Branford pre-school through early elementary classrooms earlier this month, "we distributed over 1,200 books to children," says Robin, noting, "this year, we also reached out to childcare programs in town, even home-based."

Non-profit BECC delivered copies of Antoinette Portis's Not a Box picture book, thanks to donations from individuals and business sponsors. It had young kids all over town turning boxes into fantastic creations.

Robin and her husband, Dave Steinman, are partners in their company, Starprompt, but in her previous communications career, Robin worked with local creative genius Joy Wulke of Projects2K. That's how Robin found out about Not a Box.

"Joy Wulke had done a kit with this book as an early learning tool. I had my two kids play with it and they just had a great time. Even though they're three years apart, they were still be able to participate at different levels," says Robin of Maddie, 10, and Michael, 6.

"I knew the concept would work, so I ran it by our [BECC] Education Committee. The message is that your imagination will go as far as you let it go. At the same time, we're getting books into the hands of kids and encouraging families and kids to read every day."

The BECC mission, stated at, is "to ensure that all Branford children, birth through eight years, are happy, healthy, safe and successful, with a love of learning in school and in life."

BECC is a public-private partnership supported by the Graustein Memorial Fund (GMF) with State Department of Education, Children's Fund of Connecticut, and local community investment.

Recently, the Town of Branford proposed increasing BECC support from $500 to $10,000 in the 2013-'14 budget to take advantage of a two-to-one GMF matching grant. BECC is one of four Connecticut local early childhood councils eligible for the grant. The grant would earn BECC $50,000, with $25,000 earmarked for a new, joint BECC-Branford Recreation summer reading camp, RecReads, and $20,000 geared to Branford early childhood program activities.

For three years, BECC's been working to develop a community plan responding to needs for early care; early education; social, emotional, and physical health; safety; and family support. Its data-driven work employs results-based accountability (RBA) geared toward improved outcomes, Robin explains.

"We do all our work through studies and all of our plans are based on RBA, picking indicators and measuring outcomes. We do so much behind the scenes."

Robin volunteered to join BECC at the suggestion of chair Kate Marsland.

"I met Kate after I started to get involved with my kids at school. I jumped into BECC with both feet."

With Sliney School PTO, Robin earned a watershed grant and helped bring Luminata, a water-resource education event, to Branford's Green with Project2K in 2009. Robin's also a board member of Branford-based Food Allergy Education Network and a Girl Scout leader. One of her first BECC efforts was helping apply for a literacy-based All-American Cities Award.

"We put together the paperwork on all that was going on in town. Because so many Connecticut towns applied, we were given a State Pace-Setter award, which is a designation that makes a lot of resources available to your town," says Robin.

BECC partners with nearly 50 organizations. From the Branford Chamber of Commerce's current assist with Books for Branford (find sponsorship information on its home page, to an upcoming dental care effort with Branford Cares, to the upcoming launch of a pre-K pilot phonological awareness program, BECC is constantly working to meet its mission, says Robin

"We're really all about improving outcomes for children birth to eight."