By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Since the Weekend Food Backpack Program formed in 2012 at Bristol Preschool Child Care Center, Inc., the nonprofit has helped an average of 82 out of 156 families a year.
After 3- and 4-year-olds came to Bristol Preschool hungry on Monday mornings, the backpack program was born. Bristol Preschool identified that 86 percent of children there were eligible for free/reduced meals in 2012-2013.
“We knew we needed to do something to help these families,” said Marilyn Lobaczewski, grant manager and former executive director of Bristol Preschool.
From shelf-life milk, cereal and granola bars to pasta and sauce to canned fruit and beef stew, the backpacks are filled with enough food items for the number of family members in each household. Volunteers at Asbury Methodist Church not only store the food items, but they also organize and deliver the backpacks on Fridays for Bristol Preschool families.
This year, United Way of West Central Connecticut allocated $5,000 for the backpack program. The program is just one of 31 programs funded by United Way in the areas of education, income and health. Funding began July 1, 2015, and ends June 30, 2018.
The backpack program meets United Way’s building block of “education.”
“This is through United Way’s generosity,” said Lobaczewski. “United Way has been very important to us.”
Since the backpack program’s inception, staff and administration at Bristol Preschool have noticed the children’s improved attention span and reduction of stress and anxiety.
“Their attention is there,” said Executive Director Shirley Anderson.
“They’re happier,” said Lobaczewski, adding that the program has helped reduce stress in the children’s families.
But Bristol Preschool’s relationship with United Way began even before the current funding of the backpack program. The non-profit has been a partner of United Way for over 30 years.
When School Readiness legislation evolved in 1997, Bristol Preschool was able to form strong partnerships through United Way, creating a community effort to support children and their families.
Since then, Bristol Preschool has collaborated with about a dozen local agencies, including Bristol Community Organization, Wheeler Clinic, Plainville Daycare, Salvation Army, and more.
“It really helped form those collaboratives,” said Lobaczewski, adding how she has seen early childhood education evolve.
“It’s a wonderful place to be at this time because everyone is aware of…how important it is to give a strong foundation,” said Anderson, adding how Bristol Preschool has become more connected with what other local agencies offer. “It’s for all of our children.”
Nestled behind Bristol’s downtown area on West Street, Bristol Preschool began in 1971, and is a full year educationally based program that provides an extended day program. Funded by the state, the Department of Social Services, the State Department of Education, the City of Bristol and United Way, Bristol Preschool is a School Readiness Program that is accredited by NAEYC. Its mission is to provide early care and education to children ages 3 to 5 to assist in their healthy, emotional, social, mental and physical development for lifelong learning, according to the non-profit’s website.
Its facility on West Street current has 105 children enrolled, with six teachers and six teacher assistants. Next year, Bristol Preschool will have an added location at the former Jennings School. After many years of seeking the necessary funding to provide subsidized infant and toddler care in Bristol, Bristol Preschool received a $3.25 million state grant earlier this year to renovate the former school to make that project a reality.
In addition to the backpack program, United Way also has supported Bristol Preschool’s Hardship Subsidies program, which provides low-income families subsidized tuition for preschool. This year United Way allocated $7,000 for the program.
From 2012-2015, Bristol Preschool helped 112 families with hardship subsidies. This year, the non-profit has helped 30 families, who may be receiving help with their enrollment fee to send their children to preschool. Bristol Preschool runs on a sliding pay-scale that is based off of a family’s gross income, and ranges from $8 per week, to $145 per week.
Bristol Preschool also has helped families served by St. Vincent DePaul, which serves as another. Last year, Bristol Preschool served five families, who were served by the shelter. Today, four of those families are back on track, said Anderson.
“United Way has really helped,” said Lobaczewski.
“They want to see [children] succeed,” added Anderson.
Through its partnership with United Way, Bristol Preschool has been able to review data outcomes more closely. Like the other organizations approved for funding from United Way, Bristol Preschool is required to submit an Outcome Data Report within the first 18 months and at grant end. This report serves as a tool for the organizations to see if their desired outcomes resulted after the funding.
Anderson said United Way has helped nonprofits like Bristol Preschool keep track of hard-core data of the outcomes that have resulted from their funded programs.
“We’re looking at outcome measures more,” said Anderson. “[United Way is] looking for result-based data. You have to be accountable.”
Donna Osuch, president & CPO of UWWCC, said Bristol Preschool has “always been a collaborative partner,” one that United Way can count on to work hard to create solutions that support children and families.
“There’s a lot of trust—our volunteers know Bristol Preschool offers a high quality program,” said Osuch, adding that United Way is proud of the preschool’s perseverance tp serve the community’s youngest children.
For more information about Bristol Preschool, visit its website, http://bristolpreschool.com/.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO