Greenport recreation director teaching students to be healthy

After two 9-year-old Greenport elementary students completed their homework one afternoon at the Mary H. Smith Recreation Center in Greenport, they started to help younger students color pictures of houses.

But these two students were doing more than just expressing the importance of coloring within the lines to a bunch of kindergartners. They might not have known it but they were also developing personal relationship skills.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Catherine Matthews is wrapping up her first year as director of the Greenport Village Recreation Center.

Catherine Matthews of Orient, a former Bay Shore High School home and career teacher who became Greenport Village’s recreation director in April, said she hopes to expand the learning exercises to teach students how to better themselves.

Ms. Matthews, who retired from teaching home economics about 10 years ago, has begun a new program using nutrition to teach students how to be healthy.

Every Friday the students in the after-school program at the rec center are given a freshly baked muffin and hear about healthy eating habits. The center is also partnering with Floyd Memorial Library’s “literacy through reading recipes” program. Students have also visited the Peconic Land Trust and its Agricultural Center at Charnews Farm in Southold to learn about gardening.

“I think the earlier we can instill upon them self-confidence, self-esteem and leadership skills, the better,” Ms. Matthews said.

Village Administrator David Abatelli said 43 students are currently enrolled in the village’s after-school program, which is nearly double the number of students from last year. This year, the program allowed pre-kindergartners to enroll. The cost is $60 a month per student, but the price is adjusted and lowered for families with additional children.

In addition to accommodating more students in the after-school program, the recreation center’s summer camp will be extended to eight weeks, up from seven.

Ms. Matthews said she’s also looking to hire a water safety instructor. Summer camp costs $700 per child and the village estimates about 100 children will participate this year.

“We are listening to the community’s needs,” Ms. Matthews said. “Our ideas come from what the parents and the teachers want.”
Mr. Abatelli said he attributes the program’s growth and success to Ms. Matthews’ vision and dedication.

“Last year, we were mostly functioning as just taking care of the kids after school without many programs,” he said. “Now we have fully formed programs and there are more on the way.”

As the school year continues, Ms. Matthews said she’s looking to organize classes to teach parenting skills, as well as classes for parents about careers and personal finance.

“Many parents here are struggling, particularly single mothers,” she said. “Now is a great opportunity for them to work on their career skills while their children are in school.”

For more information about the village recreation center, visit

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