ADAM ROSANTE: For anyone who’s not familiar, what is The Center?
BONNIE MICHELLE CANNON: The Center—formally known as Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center—is a historically Black community-based organization that serves all marginalized children and families on the East End. We’re a full-service community center with a host of programs and services: after-school and summer programs; college prep; SAT classes; D.R.E.A.M. Teens; a food pantry; and emergency assistance. We have all kinds of enrichment programs for youths and teens: sports, an in-house substance misuse counselor, an in-house licensed social worker, a Latinx program (to teach both English and Spanish, and offer translation services), young adult/adult workforce training, Thinking Forward Lecture Series, life-experience field trips for our youths/teens and much more. It’s a lot, I know. But you asked! Bottom line: The Center is an East End lifeline that changes lives.
AR: What would someone who’s familiar with The Center be surprised to learn?
BMC: First, that The Center was born out of tragedy. After a fire in a migrant camp killed two children of seasonal workers, a 6-acre site in Bridgehampton was donated to create a safe place for children to thrive. Today we’re building a new state-of-the-art facility that’s going to help change the trajectory of so many lives. It’ll be open by the end of this year.
Second, the children we’ve served over the years have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, police officers, accountants, principals, pastors, entrepreneurs and more. Many even found their lifelong mate here at The Center. Now they’re adults with families of their own. What’s amazing is that they all come back to help and give back to our youth in some way.
AR: What’s your biggest challenge, right now?
BMC: Awareness and funds. Our long-awaited new building is rising quickly, and will be opening its doors by the end of the year. We’ll finally be able to offer state-of-the-art spaces for our programs, community meetings and celebrations. But we need your support to grow and serve our children and community.
AR: Can you share a success story?
BMC: Where should I begin? The success stories are endless. I’d like to share two. Our first Teach Me How to Fish workforce training graduate in software engineering just accepted a dream job offer in Silicon Valley. Imagine how that felt? We’re so proud. The other story has to do with one of my “littles.” That’s what I call our 5- to 7-year-olds. I asked him, “What is the best thing you like about The Center?” With the biggest smile on his face, he said, “The food!” I didn’t get it at first, but then I realized he wasn’t getting enough to eat at home. Having a heart-centered space where we really listen allowed us to assist his entire family with the nourishment they needed.
AR: Why is it important to use your life to be of service?
BMC: Service has always been a part of my upbringing. My family instilled in me that we should all serve in some way. I believe everyone should make it a part of their life. It’s a key value we instill in our youth here at The Center, and we see it reflected in their actions every day.
AR: How can someone get involved with The Center?
BMC: Support our programs. You can donate to our capital campaign for our new state-of-the-art building. Buy a brick and become part of our legacy. You can be a direct sponsor for a specific program, or donate to our food pantry. People with special expertise can assist children, teens and young adults. Employers can offer internships for our Teach Me How to Fish workforce training graduates. The Center is on the cusp of major growth and the ability to create more opportunities for our East End community. Be a part of that change, and help us continue to serve our youth, our families and the community. Go to our website to donate, or contact us to get involved: bhccrc.org