By Elaine Winn
Atlantic News, Tuesday, October 3, 1995
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News.]
HAMPTON -- Two enthusiastic and energetic Hampton moms have proven once more that the secret to success is "Find a need and fill it." And in the process have provided a service that solves a major problem for many area parents. Lori Tarnowski and Mary Hollis, who met when they were coworkers in a Hampton preschool, found themselves in the fall of '92 with free time once their children were all in school. What were they going to do with that time ... and if they got involved with a full time endeavor, where would their children go once school was out?
"We knew the YMCA ran after-school programs at the school, but they were full," said Mary, "and had children on a waiting list."
It didn't take long for Lori and Mary to realize there was a real need for after-school care. They decided to fulfill the need.
"We started at the First Congregational Church because they had a large room," Lori explained. "We started with ten children and three were our own."
Although it took six months to get through the licensing process, they had great support from friends and the schools system, especially Marston School principal Nancy Andrews who encouraged their efforts.
"The school system was very supportive," Mary admitted, "from Dr. Weiss (the superintendent) on down to the school's staff. We never had an unsupportive wall. We had the support of the whole community. And Bruce Bus Service was wonderful, willing to do whatever they could, even developing new routes to get the children here safely," Lori said.
Starting out with an afternoon program from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m, they soon added a half-day for the out-of-school kindergartners. "We were booming by the following year," Lori said, "(enrollment) went right up to 40 children."Mary went on, "The second year, we added morning hours from 7:00 to 8:30 to fill the before-school need for working parents. Then we closed until 11:30 and opened again after school. That year we also took junior high kids at 2:00 p.m. and stayed open until 6:00 p.m.," added Lori.
Last September, they opened all day for the first time with the out of school kindergarten students filling the 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. spot.
"Every year we added something," Mary noted. "And the church gave us a great start," Lori pointed out.
At this point they were open from 7:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m It was very obvious that they had outgrown the church hall. They had 40 children enrolled and 40 more on the waiting list. They began looking for a larger facility because they "hated to turn people down."
"We know what it's like," they confessed. "We're parents. We know what is needed to help."
Last December they had completed their business profile and by January had loan approval. This September they opened The Fun After School Program at their new facility next to the post office at 40 Stickney Terrace.
Their first goal was to accommodate 60 children, but exceeded that when they opened licensed for 80. They are in the process of adding handicapped toilet facilities which may allow them to take 100 soon.
Not a preschool or a standard day-care center, this program caters to children already in school. Although structured and well supervised, the priority is to provide a "home away from home" atmosphere."~
"Our philosophy is we want the kids to feel they're coming home from school to play," Lori emphasized.
With a staff of 10 part-time and fulltime instructors (full-time staff members all have child related degrees), Lori and Mary have provided a protected and safe place for comfortable and creative activity.
The program offers a different craft every day with a craft teacher and "pretty much unlimited art supplies." There are games for large and small motor skills, soft ball, volley ball, and other physical games and a myriad of board games for those who aren't so physical. At the moment, a checker challenge tournament is in progress. Every Friday there is something special planned, such as this week's talent show, and the last day of the month is celebration time for all those who had a birthday during the month. The older children (fourth graders and up) are developing their own newspaper which will feature such things as a cartoon strip and world news from their perspective.
There will be a spook house for Halloween, planned and put together by a volunteer committee made up of the children themselves. They gather ideas, map out what they want to do and even make their own cookies, candies and decorations. "They have a ball," grinned Mary, "And they learn diplomacy and how to consider other people's ideas. They also learn how to deal with other's feelings." Such cooperative skills will stand them in good stead in the future.
At The Fun After School Program, children can use their imaginations and physical energy in creative ways and they're learning from the best teacher: experience.
"The kids set the tone," Mary and Lori agree. "They tell us what they want to do and we try to provide it. We bend. We're very flexible. The building is large enough to allow the freedom to do this."
And Lori and Mary are not reluctant to share the building, although they would prefer to see other child-oriented groups using it.
Good news for neighboring communities is that the program is not limited to Hampton children. "If you can get them here, we can take them," say Lori and Mary.
The Fun program seems to bless all who are involved with it and none more that its founders, who are obviously enjoying every day. "For the most part," they say, "the kids are great and we have a wonderful group of parents." But above and beyond that, they experience the satisfaction that comes from knowing their efforts are needed and appreciated; and the even more satisfying rewards that come from just being around the children. In Mary's words, "There is nothing more heartening than hearing a child laugh. It makes you feel all warm inside."