Keeping The Doors Open At Village Preschool

By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, June 3, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]

BUILDING AN EDUCATION — Students who attend the Village Preschool in Hampton take part in a number of different activities, including academics, arts and crafts and playtime. [Atlantic News Photo by Liz Premo]

HAMPTON - A brainstorming session was held recently in an effort to "rethink" the business model of the Village Preschool in Hampton.

Ever since the non-profit program experienced a critical need for funding last summer — when it looked as if the doors might close for good — heroic community efforts have been made to help keep it afloat. Generous donations of all sizes came in, both corporate and individual, and the preschool was able to continue operating.

In the minds of many, it was "a very good save," for the community, the preschool, and the families it serves.

For more than a decade, the Hampton Village Preschool (established as the Hampton Child and Family Program) has offered affordable before and after school care for Hampton Kindergartners and Head Start students, as well as a complete pre-school program during the school year. Extended care is also available year round, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Under the supervision of Director Virginia Bridle-Russell and about a half-dozen dedicated staff members, the Village Preschool has provided a fun, safe and educational environment for the many students who take part in the program. Through the course of a day, students can enjoy academics, literacy, phys ed, arts and crafts, and plenty of one-on-one interaction with the staff. Many of these students attend on need-based scholarships provided through the Village Preschool program.

In recent months, according to Bridle-Russell, it became apparent that the need for the Village Preschool in Hampton "is great and growing." However, "the tight availability of community financing," steadily rising expenses, and a perceptible drop in the number of "significant sources of funding" have continually put the squeeze on the business plan currently in place.

Joining Bridle-Russell at the brainstorming session were members of the Hampton Child and Family Program board of directors; Village Preschool staff members; parents; and community leaders. Discussion ranged from the program’s history and purpose, the services it provides, and its diverse range of students.

"It’s not just for children with financial or special needs," one administrator pointed out. "It goes across the board."

One parent, calling herself "a rather picky person," commented how she had visited a number of pre-schools and settled on the Village Preschool for her children. "It has nothing to do with money," she said in reference to the availability of scholarships; rather, she explained, it is "the people there, the program philosophy. My kids are happy, they’re safe. It’s just a great program."

A parent of a "high-functioning autistic kid" who has been attending the school for more than a year said that her son "has thrived since he’s been there. He loves it."

The feeling is mutual as far as the staff is concerned.

"I really like my job," said preschool staffer Angie Twombley. "We’re good for each other and we work well with each other. We truly believe we’re helping every child. We’re needed; we’re truly needed."

Hampton Community Coalition’s Patty McKenzie noted that with Hampton being a "property-rich" town, programs like the Village Preschool don’t always qualify for certain funding obtained through various sources, such as state, federal or private grants. Oftentimes the preschool faces stiff competition from other non-profits in seeking funding; in other words, "struggling to chase that same dollar." And although much-needed money has come in over time via local corporations, various trust funds and foundations, a pair of civic organizations and from Rockingham County, the dollar amounts have in some cases have either decreased, not increased at all, or disappeared entirely.

"Ginny and I sweat [with] each and every payroll," admitted board member Brad Jacobson, who provided two pages of facts and figures which spelled out the need for steadier funding. He took time, however, to acknowledge how "the community really stepped up for us" during last year’s fiscal crisis, helping to "generate more funds [which] got us through the year."

One other need which was noted was that of additional board members. "We do need to grow the board," acknowledged Kate Reed Lane, who led the brainstorming group in listing scores of suggestions for ways the board could not only expand, but also make important connections with other community entities and agencies in an effort to help keep the Village Preschool program solvent.

Among the proposed ideas listed: Approaching local hospitals and pediatricians; involving other area schools, pre-schools and PTAs; putting notice on Hampton’s Cable Channel 22; getting the word out via the Internet; approaching the town to have an article placed on the warrant; contacting the Chamber of Commerce, churches, and organizations such as City Year for help; building stronger relationships with area corporations; and possibly establishing individual corporate scholarships for selected students.

Village Preschool "has to be seen as the community’s preschool," commented Centre School Principal Nancy Andrews, who affirmed that the "Hampton PTA remains committed to supporting" a highly successful program which had started out as a PTA study project. To keep the program successful, the various options suggested during the brainstorming session are being explored.

In the meantime, donations from the community are always gratefully accepted, and may be sent to The Village Preschool, 70 High Street, Hampton, NH 03842. For more information, call Director Virginia Bridle-Russell at (603) 929-7349.