Pictured Above: Paul Jeffers, Dan Rattiner, Bonnie Michelle Cannon, Kathy Houchul, Fred Thiele, Bridget Fleming, Jay Schneiderman at the Oct. 24 groundbreaking. | photos courtesy The Center

A new era is beginning at the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreation Center, with the ceremonial groundbreaking Saturday for a new building to replace its 1902 headquarters.

The Center has served kids while their parents are at work for 70 years, since it was built in response to a devastating 1949 fire that killed two children of potato farm workers who were home alone while their parents were out in the fields.

“The Center,” as it is affectionately known in the Bridgehampton community, had originally had all of its programming in a 1902 farmhouse on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike. That farmhouse still served as the administration center and a place for youth activities, and is slated to be fully demolished this week to make way for a brand new building.

The Center has been in desperate need of more space for after-school activities, college prep and computer lab space, classrooms for art, chess and Scrabble clubs, administration offices and community meeting space, as well as indoor space during inclement weather for summer programs.

Thanks to a $300,000 grant from the Empire State Development Corporation, a $125,000 grant from the Suffolk County Legislature and donations from the community, the new building will soon be a reality.

The Center held a groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 24, at which they began the demolition of the farmhouse, with Center Executive Director Bonnie Cannon at the controls of the excavator.

Bonnie Cannon takes the inaugural swipe at the old Center.

“We came a mighty long ways,” said Paul Jeffers, Jr.,  The Center’s Board Chairman, at the groundbreaking. “We had some angels on that road that made things much more easy. When I see young kids come through The Center and get encouraged to go on to school and get degrees, that’s the pay for me. It’s been a hard road. We can only make it when we become a family. We all have to stick together.”

“He has the stick-to-itivness to make me go on,” said Ms. Cannon, of Mr. Jeffers.
“We have very good relationships with everyone. Some organizations don’t. I thank God for each one of you that are here and what you have done for the center.”

Center kids thanked the officials for funding the project.

Among those friends is New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who told the socially distanced crowd of 50 (many more watched on Facebook live) that The Center is a reminder of the difficulties that female essential workers are facing getting child care during the pandemic.

“It is not just a family’s problem. Child care is a problem for our economy, our state and our nation,” she said. “We all have a responsibility to lift up women and children, and for a more diverse work force we have to make sure there’s access to quality child care.”

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele said that, growing up playing basketball at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor, he often visited The Center to play with students from the rival Bridgehampton Killer Bees.

“How we spend our money tells you what we think is important,” he said. “This new building will show the children we think they’re important.”

“The kind of child care that the Lieutenant Governor talked about is so critically important, not only for the family, not only for the children, but for the community as a whole,” said County Legislator Bridget Fleming. “We have seen a crushing impact on families, on children and particularly on women workers as the pandemic has forced people to cut back on their weekly budgets and on ways for their children to be well-cared-for. Here at the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreation Center, this has been going on for decades.”

Ms. Cannon said programs at the center will meet at the neighboring Southampton Town Senior Center while the new building is constructed, thanks to the help of Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. 

“I remember as a kid driving by some of those shanties and wondering who lived in those places,” said Mr. Schneiderman of the farm labor buildings that once stood on the Turnpike.  “One stiff wind and they’d have been on the ground. There’s been great unfairness for a long time. That history is important to know, but the future we don’t know. We’re building the future right here.”

The Center has an ongoing buy-a-brick campaign for the new building. For more details, visit bhccrc.org/donate.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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