Project MOST Looking for Community’s Support

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Students working at Project MOST in East Hampton.

Project MOST’s afterschool programs have been available for families that need help in these difficult times, and now, the nonprofit is hoping to garner community support to stay afloat.

Last September, the organization was awarded a five-year grant from New York State Advantage After School Program, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, receipt of that grant money has been delayed indefinitely. It could also be subject to reduction as state budgets are stretched and scrutinized. So, while Project MOST waits, the organization is looking to secure funds to the tune of $280,000 annually to keep lights on and programs running, and remain financially accessible for families.

“Like many nonprofit organizations around the country, Project MOST has faced severe financial challenges due to the pandemic. We are urgently fundraising within the community and nationally to help us continue to fund the Remote Learning Lab, as well as our other initiatives,” Education Director Martha Stotzky said. “These programs are too essential to local families and to the local economy to lose them.”

The learning lab was created in response to the impact Springs School’s hybrid model was having on children and their families. The school district was the only district unable to provide in-person instruction at school five days a week due to space constraints and the need to provide social distancing between students. Project MOST offers a full day of learning — 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. — to 44 kids at the Project MOST Community Learning Center at the Neighborhood House in East Hampton for families that have students home from school during remote learning days. While the kindergarten through eighth-grade school typically hosts the program — providing approximately 140 Springs School students with afterschool care and activities — it could not this year, because it did not have the means to have custodians clean the building after 3 p.m., Ms. Stotzky said.

“We would take more students if we had a larger or additional space, but we are maintaining 6 feet of social distance, along with strict enforcement of mask wearing and other safety precautions,” the education director said. “Students’ remote learning is supervised in the mornings, and then the rest of the day is filled with STEM, cultural studies, art, literacy and play. This essential program has allowed parents to return to work full-time and know that their children are receiving a full day of academic and creative activities in a safe environment.”

A similar program is also held at John M. Marshall Elementary School and is running as usual, with after-school programming.

Project MOST also offers a nine-week summer learning program, plus year-round evening and weekend workshops and academic assistance in the areas of arts and culture; science, technology, engineering and math; and health and wellness. The nonprofit recently expanded its mission to become a full-scale community learning program, now offering STEM, art, fitness and conversational Spanish classes for children and adults in the community on Saturdays and early learning sessions for children on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with an eye toward possibly rolling out a full early learning program for children 2½ to 4 years old in the future.

The current early learning sessions are hands-on; and also include singing and storytelling and open-ended imaginative play.

“The sessions are very student-centered and meant to build on a child’s natural sense of curiosity about the world,” Ms. Stotzky said.

“Project MOST continues to look to the future and how we can serve the needs in the community,” Executive Director Rebecca Morgan Taylor said. “Project MOST would like to be able to offer our programs to more children, offer more financial assistance when needed and to engage students beyond the school day.”

Ways to help include sponsoring a student scholarship or program or committing to a recurring donation. A business sponsorship has also recently become available. It provides marketing and public relations opportunities to businesses who participate. Information about this program is available on Project MOST’s website or by contacting dakota@projectmost.org.

“We believe that the community will step up and help us in any way that they can,” Ms. Stotzky said. “We are just plugging away at reaching out to raise the funds we need to keep this essential program going. There is no other option. We cannot let the children of this community slip through the cracks.”

The education director said many parents have told the organization that there is a lack of similar programs in their community. She said Project MOST has received positive feedback from parents.

Ms. Stotzky said the nonprofit is also poised to begin a capital campaign early next year that will enable Project MOST to provide the community with a permanent facility for the Community Learning Center; expand programming to include an extensive range of classes, workshops and performances for the public; and create a scholarship fund to ensure all member of the community can have access to expanded learning opportunities.

“An independent, permanent facility will be a game changer for the children and families in the area,” Ms. Stotzky said. “Our vision is to be the preeminent expanded learning provider on the East End — a one-stop community learning center where students of all ages will find inspiration. We will be a place where children can spend their school vacations, for example, learning a new craft, cooking, dancing, investigating a scientific problem, making stop animation videos and meeting children from other school districts. Our summer program will bring together children who live here year-round and those who visit just in the summer — broadening the horizons of both. Teens can learn to cook, and families can take a photography class together. We will be responsive to what the community tells us they want to learn, make and explore.”

A holiday wine tasting fundraiser will take place over Zoom on Friday, December 18, at 7 p.m. Spots need to be reserved by Friday, December 4. Co-founders of Virtual Wine Coach, Melissa Principi and Michelle Waters — each Level 2 certified sommeliers — will guide those who sign up through pre-selected wines. Registration is $75 per household, and includes two bottles of wine and advanced recommendations of cheese pairings. Trivia and a question-and-answer session will also take place.

Ms. Stotzky, who has been with Project MOST for over 11 years, said any donation helps, and that she and many others take great pleasure in being able to provide children with exciting learning experiences at the same time it cares for them, so that families can work.

“Our families are so hard-working and want so much for their children. Many of our parents will tell you that there is no way they would be able to keep working if it were not for our afterschool program, and during the pandemic, this has obviously been even more true,” Ms. Stotzky said. “Juggling work, childcare and trying to supervise remote learning was a huge challenge for families in the spring. We wanted to help as many families as possible when it became obvious that remote learning would be happening again this fall, and to provide children with supplemental learning experiences beyond what the remote learning entailed. We all know that a strong community is sustained by its emerging generations, and if there were ever an urgent need to help sustain the community it is now.”

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