LEVERETT — Upon moving to Shutesbury in 2017, Samantha Spisiak discovered a weekly story time at M.N. Spear Memorial Library, often bringing her toddler to the get-together with other families.
“This has been a really big part of our lives,” Spisiak said as she joined several other parents and caregivers at the Leverett Public Library Wednesday morning, where their children could play with magnetic toys and have books read to them, and enjoy music, and movement, with musicians Tom and Laurie leading an “End of Summer Hurrah.”
As her child, Olson Reagan, now 5, gets ready to begin kindergarten, her other children, Abel Reagan, 4, and Etta Reagan, 2, continue to be part of story time and play groups put on by the School Union 28 Community Network for Children, programs that have been essential to their well-being and development.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to us,” Spisiak said.
Families also were at the library to meet with Massachusetts Early Education and Care Commissioner Amy Kershaw, who announced on behalf of the Healey-Driscoll administration that $15.5 million in Coordinated Family and Community Engagement grants would be coming to local school districts and nonprofits so such child development services and resources can continue to be provided to families with young children. These programs are designed to support child well-being, development and school readiness, in the state’s most rural towns.
“What you’ve built here is so incredible,” Kershaw said.
Gillian Budine, who has coordinated the program for the towns that make up the school union — Leverett, Shutesbury, Erving, Wendell and New Salem — for 27 years, said programs emphasizing connections, friendships and readiness for entering school are aimed primarily at children from birth through age 5.
Budine said the Community Network for Children has positively impacted families. “The resilience and health of our families is crucial to our local community,” Budine said.
While the state is supporting this with an $83,789 grant, $14,000 is also being provided by Union 28 to support the play groups, story time and other activities that build children’s confidence and improve their gross motor skills. There is also the free closet program, where families and caregivers can access diapers, children’s clothing, coats, hats and books. Financial support is provided through local cultural councils and grants from other institutions, such as the New Salem Academy.
Without the support from the state budget, though, there would be challenges for families, Budine said, as there are only four licensed child care options in the five communities.
Budine said that all programs are free and most are held weekdays, with an occasional Sunday program and some in the evenings.