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Family Center fights state cuts



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Jill Papandrea and her son Julio, 3, enjoy some quality time on the playground the Southbridge Family Center shares with the Kennedy-Donovan Center. SFCís funding is at risk because of proposed state budget cuts. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
June 15, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — Most people don't think of young children's play as a money-related issue, but this June it might be.

If the state Senate's version of the budget passes, Southbridge Family Center is likely to be scrambling for money to stay open. That's why SFC Director Lauren McLoughlin is pushing for the House version, which allots about $1.3 million more for the Department of Early Education and Care, including funds for "supplemental services" such as her program. It works alongside the Kennedy-Donovan Center's early intervention service to provide unstructured playgroups, information and other things for families with kids under age 5.

"We give them a chance to have open play — the kind of play kids don't get anymore," McLoughlin said. "That's where they learn cooperation, problem-solving, language development and, for parents, it gives them uninterrupted connectivity."

In plain English, the children get to do pretty much whatever they want with other children, with supervision for safety but without the very structured schedule often seen in formal preschools.

To Jill Papandrea of Sturbridge, it's ideal for her son, Julio, 3. For a while, he received the more formal early intervention — which is designed to help kids who are showing some kind of delayed development — but transitioned into the less formal playgroup in February. His sister, Audrey, is currently in early intervention, Papandrea said.

"He didn't really talk at all until he was about 2, now he's a chatterbox," she said while watching him bounce around the outside playground from toy to toy. "He has been in a structured setting, but he's a hyper kid. At his age, you can get about half an hour of structure and that's about it."

On this Tuesday afternoon, they were the only people still present, waiting for Audrey's class to finish. Sometimes, a few other kids remain when they arrive for her sessions, but Julio also gets informal playtime Wednesdays with the Sturbridge MOMS group.

Such affiliations are becoming more and more common. Parents want options to give their children safe play communities in an era when extended families almost don't exist and media tales of abductors make parents afraid to let their children go exploring the way previous generations did, McLoughlin observed.

See Thursday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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