Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

Four-year-olds Aaron and Abigail could not contain their happiness as they climbed on their brand-new playhouse, rode their shiny, cherry-red tricycles and ran around chasing balls — all thanks to the generous donation that their school, Southampton Head Start, received yesterday.

“This donation is important and will help our children further their education,” said Karen Gibson, director of Southampton Head Start, which is located on Flanders Road.

Various local businesses and groups — Women of the Moose, Riverside Rediscovered, ASCEND, Suffolk Federal Credit Union, FRNCA and Truth Community Church — donated the funds for the equipment and replenished some of the center’s supplies. The effort was spearheaded by Riverside Rediscovered community liaison Siris Barrios and Riverhead School board member Ron Fisher.

“I went to promote an event to the center last spring and realized they needed new tricycles,” Barrios said. “I realized how important it was to raise awareness about the important work they do and to help them.”

They raised $2,200 in total, money that helped buy six tricycles, four helmets, signs for safe ride biking, four parachutes, 11 gallons of washable paint, paper, various balls and a big playhouse.

“These types of donations from the community are vital,” said Carol Burnett, Long Island Head Start community outreach and recruitment coordinator. “We do not have the funding to purchase items like these on a regular basis.”

Long Island Head Start, a community-based non-profit organization, is a free, comprehensive program funded through a federal grant that provides early childhood education for children under five years old, as well as promoting health and family well-being. It currently serves about 2,000 children and families with income at or below the federal poverty level. The organization operates out of 24 centers across Long Island, from Amityville in the west to Southold and Bridgehampton on the East End.

The Southampton and Riverhead centers have 104 children each.

“Studies show the importance of preparing young children for school and the impact it has on later,” Burnett said. “For every dollar spent there is a seven dollar return on that investment.”

However, funding for the program is not guaranteed. By law, federal grant funding cannot exceed 80 percent of the center’s total budget. The remaining 20 percent must be raised by each center from other sources — or they could lose their federal grant, Burnett said.

Donations of supplies and equipment and in-kind services help the center match the federal grant.

The federal poverty level for a family of four is currently set at $ 26,400, an amount that makes it exceedingly difficult for families to pay for basic necessities, let alone private child care.

Burnett explained that the low-income children who come to the centers sometimes do not have enough food at home or have health issues. Other times, the school is the only place where they will be able to learn about computers and have books readily available.

“This is a very comprehensive program,” Burnett said. “We know from the beginning if children need help. We ready the children so they can succeed in kindergarten and help them move towards self-sufficiency. ”

Curtis Highsmith Jr., executive director of ASCEND Homes & Community Foundation — the non-profit organization of the Southampton Town Housing Authority — said that it is crucial “to lead by example.”

“We made a contribution because we believe it is important to support this program,” he said. “They do incredible work and more people should know about it.”

Burnett said that on the East End, not too many people do what Head Start offers the community and how it can help.

“We are still a secret here,” she said. “People do not realize what we do for children and families. It’s important to give back, one way or another. It will improve the life of a child enormously. ”

Truth Community Church pastor Keith Indovino said that even though he had been in the community for two years, he did not know what was happening just a few miles up the road at Southampton Head Start.

“Once we heard from Riverside Rediscovered, FRNCA and others about the incredible work they do and the families they serve, we jumped to help,” said Indovino, whose church contributed to the donation. “Now that we know that we can do that by volunteering or donating, we’ll do everything we can to help.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Maria Piedrabuena.

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María del Mar is a contributor to RiverheadLOCAL and the editor and founder of Tu Prensa Local, a Spanish-language local news outlet on Long Island. Maria has won several awards for her work, including a first place best column award from the New York Press Association. Email Maria