New CAST program to lend helping hand to parents, kids

JOSEPH PINCIARO PHOTO | Children's books will be one segment of a new program offered by CAST.
JOSEPH PINCIARO PHOTO | Offering children’s books will be one segment of a new program offered by CAST.

Spending quality time with your child may not seem like a difficult task, but for impoverished families on the North Fork, it can be hard to get the books and toys necessary for reading to and playing with their children, said Sarah Benjamin, director of Community Action Southold Town.

A new program offered by the nonprofit hopes to change that for about 45 needy families, giving them the support to properly parent their children, without doing the work for them.

CAST has begun ramping up its efforts toward the Parent-Child Home Program, a national initiative launched on Long Island in 1965, that focuses on children between 18 months and 2 years of age. Through the effort, CAST will send home-workers to the houses of participating families twice a week for two years, dropping off donated books and encouraging the parents to read to and play with their children.

“It’s like being a good neighbor,” Ms. Benjamin said, adding that the program will follow poor families in the town to their new homes or shelters if they should have to move. “We want the mother to be the hero.”

CAST will pay the home-workers and the roughly $30,000 program cost through grants and donations, including the Ronan Guyer Fund, a cache of donations set up in memory of the Southold teen who died during a cross country meet a year ago this week. The Southold Rotary also donated $3,500 toward the program.

The program will service about 20 families across Southold Town in its first year, doubling the number next year, she said. She said that immigrant and migrant worker families are among the most enthusiastic to join the project, though the program is open to all.

Ms. Benjamin said it’s essential for young children to be read to and engaged while their brains are still developing.

“If you start behind, you stay behind,” she said.

The program’s goal is to help pull families out of poverty by educating their children, making them “self-sufficient,” Ms. Benjamin said.

“We’re empowering the parent to do it,” she said.

Ms. Benjamin — who helped organize the same program for Eastern Suffolk BOCES for 12 years before she joined CAST — said she’s seen the project’s effects firsthand.

“I know that it works,” she said. “We have a real hope that this is going to slowly and quietly, but consistently, make a difference in the lives of families on the North Fork.”

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