By Bill Thomas, Correspondent
Posted Nov 29, 2017 at 12:40 PM Updated Nov 29, 2017 at 12:46 PM
WORCESTER – Nancy Thibault of the Rainbow Child Development Center likens the center’s role to that of an oasis in the midst of poverty.
To that end, the Edward Street early education and after-school facility’s staff is gratified that the center’s children have been chosen as a Telegram & Gazette Santa Fund recipient for the first time this year.
“I can’t tell you how much the gifts from T&G Santa help,” Ms. Thibault said, noting that center students from 3 to 13 years of age will be the recipients. “Our parents do not have discretionary funds for Legos, craft kits and art kits. Each child will get two nice gifts that are age-appropriate and new,” she said, emphasizing the latter word.
Offering a panoply of services, the Rainbow Center has been serving low-income and single parents from the city’s poorest neighborhoods for 45 years. Some of those offerings include nutrition classes, summer camp at Camp Marshall in Spencer, a literacy program, a parent-healthy cooking series led by an award-winning chef, preschool summer music pilot, “Exercise Your Mind” reading program developed by the Worcester Bravehearts, African dance and drumming, and a summer science program with a simulated archaeological dig.
With a targeted demographic of children from six months to 13 years old, Ms. Thibault noted that their families consist largely of single mothers working full time, for minimum wage. These families have battled issues of neglect, drugs and alcohol, with 20 to 25 percent under the supervision of the state Department of Children and Families.
The Rainbow Center serves students from the Worcester public and charter schools, including those with high poverty and crime levels, to the extent that the schools are frequently locked down.
Among the recent developments serving the community at the Rainbow Center, was the opening of a new playground in September, with the help of a $200,000 state grant.
Licensed through the state Department of Early Education and Care, the Rainbow Center offers programs in speech therapy and gardening, in addition to art and music. Among the agencies providing training at the center are the Regional Environmental Council, Community Harvest program and University of Massachusetts Food Extension program.
In keeping with its comprehensive support role, Ms. Thibault said the Rainbow Center is open 52 weeks per year.
“We’re not running on an academic schedule. We have the children all day long, because the parents are working.”
State Sen. Michael O. Moore, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and U.S. Sen. James P. McGovern, D-Mass., have been extremely supportive of the center, she said.
Despite the challenges, “it’s rewarding, making a difference in children’s lives, and the parents also become trusting.”
Among those challenges are a transient population among the students, who are difficult to track once they leave the area. Meanwhile, the Rainbow Center’s teachers are well qualified, but are paid at a lower rate than their public school counterparts, thereby leading to a high turnover rate, said Ms. Thibault, strategic communication and development manager at the center.
Nevertheless, the Rainbow Center’s curriculum provides a foundation for its students’ workforce success, despite being a high-risk population. Examples of the center’s supportive programs include an on-site speech therapist and after-school homework program. Furthermore, an on-site chef provides healthful meals and snacks to center participants.
After completing the early education Rainbow Center program, “kids are ready to transfer to the Worcester public schools,” Ms. Thibault said. “We’re transforming lives and making it possible for brighter futures,” while enabling parents to continue working.
Through programs such as the Telegram & Gazette Santa, “the T&G are champions for children,” she said.
“We can’t thank the T&G enough for truly making a difference in children’s lives.”
The T&G Santa Fund has been helping local families for the last 79 years. Last year, more than 1,500 donors contributed to assist more than 8,000 local families.
The fund works with many local nonprofits to distribute toys, gifts and books to bring smiles to thousands in need. This year we thank the following organizations who assist the T&G Santa Fund, including: The Salvation Army (Worcester, Fitchburg and Milford), Catholic Charities Family and Children’s Services, Rainbow Child Development Center, Gardner Community Action Committee, WHEAT Community Services, Winchendon Community Action Committee, Department of Mental Health-Worcester, Devereux Foundation-Holden, Devereux School-Rutland, Dr. Franklin Perkins School-Lancaster, and the Spanish American Center-Leominster.