By Gretchen Althoff Snyder
Now in its third year, 5 Steps to Five, a parenting program that helps level the playing field for low-income, underserved families in Port Chester, is in full swing and growing exponentially. Co-founded by Rye residents Kent and Mary Alice Warner and Allen Clark, the program, which now serves 180 families, runs every Saturday morning at 17 Spring Street. Trained early childhood professionals teach parents to stimulate their babies’ (newborn to age 3) minds through reading, speaking, singing, and playing.
When the program was in its infancy, the co-founders quickly recognized that most, if not all, parents were unable to attend the program without someone to watch their older children. Enter the Sibling Room, a place where parents can drop their older children off while they attend the parenting classes with their babies just down the hall. What began as “glorified babysitting” has blossomed into a program where the siblings can benefit from group activities as well as a newly initiated reading program. The Sibling Room averages ten students per week, although there have been days when as many as twenty kids show up. As the older children range in age from 4 to 12, it’s a challenge to keep all of them occupied and engaged at the same time.
“There is a tremendous learning curve to implementing a reading component in the Sibling Room – it is a work-in-progress,” says Kent. The biggest hurdle by far has been getting the older children to actually want to read on a Saturday morning. There is a concern, he continues, that some of the children in the Sibling Room are not reading at grade level. To that end, 5 Steps to Five will coordinate with and receive guidance from the Carver Center, which already has an established reading program in place for older children during their summer camp.
5 Steps to Five also has loyal student volunteers who work tirelessly to engage these older children and get them more excited about reading. Rye High School freshman Alberto Laveron, a native of Spain, says he wanted to do something for the Port Chester community after he saw the drastic difference in opportunities between the two towns. “When I realized that I could help Spanish speakers, that I could make a difference, I joined 5 Steps to Five.” While Alberto says it can be difficult to keep all the kids happy, he finds his work very rewarding. “The parents are so nice and polite, and the kids are well-behaved. I enjoy being a part of this community and have made strong connections with many of the kids.”
Virginia Field, also a Rye High freshman, got involved after her mother, Lisa Field, became Director in the spring of 2016. Virginia volunteered her time because she “genuinely loves being around kids.” While each Saturday is a little different, her mornings always begin by setting up the room and the supplies, so everything is ready when the siblings arrive. Each child then chooses a book and reads independently, or a volunteer reads to them, depending on their age and abilities. Afterwards, there is usually an art project or other group activity, such as a scavenger hunt.
While Virginia acknowledges that it can be a struggle to get the older children to read, and that there aren’t enough age-appropriate books to go around, she’s glad to have been able to build solid, meaningful relationships with some of the siblings. “And it is so great that these kids have something to look forward to on Saturday mornings.”
Student volunteers Nina Hauswirth, Alberto Laveron, Lucia Niveas Molina, and Virginia Field