The clouds cleared and the rain subsided for the Room to Grow graduating class of 2019. This year Room to Grow hosted its largest graduating class yet – 58 in total. The Norwalk preschool first started holding graduation ceremonies in 1995, welcoming parents and relatives to witness the milestone of children exiting preschool and entering kindergarten.
This year’s event was complete with graduation caps to match the child’s classroom theme color, entertainment from the school’s music teacher Tom Weber, and a post- graduation lunch. Weber, a resident of Fairfield, strummed his guitar and sang out the names of each graduate as they walked up to receive their diploma.
The event was even attended by Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling and his wife Lucia. Mrs. Rilling is an active member of the Room to Grow advisory council. She attends graduation each year and this year welcomed the families in Spanish.
Prior to the event, the teachers were busy preparing the students for the ceremony. In one classroom, teacher Caitlin Dudek was helping to put caps on students. While Caitlin is a new teacher at Room to Grow, she is very familiar with its concept. Caitlin graduated from the program in 1998. “I remember when this was me,” said Dudek. “It doesn’t seem that long ago, but I know it is.” Once a student of the program, Dudek is now a teacher molding the young minds at the center.
Dudek is not the only former student to return to the center. Tatianna Santiago was a student at Room to Grow 24 years ago. Tatianna fondly remembers her time at Room to Grow, saying, “My grandmother would bring me here ever morning and Nancy would be here to greet me. It was always a happy place and I had such happy memories of being here. That is why I wanted my daughter to come here.” She returned to Room to Grow to enroll her daughter Gianna Kitt. Tatianna and her grandmother Natalia Santiago proudly celebrated Gianna’s graduation from Room to Grow.
The fun continued after the ceremony with every graduate receiving a backpack loaded with supplies to send them off to kindergarten fully equipped for success. Catholic Charities was able to provide the students with these backpacks through their Operation Backpack Project. The agency reached out to the community via social media and several local donors helped to fulfill the need. Backpacks were donated by Barbara and Peter Ripp of Greenwich. The Ripp’s who have been longtime donors of Catholic Charities heard about the project immediately contacted the agency asking “what can we provide to help the students at Room to Grow.”
Another source of backpacks came from the Law Office of Robin P. Keller in Norwalk. Robin Keller also learned of the search for backpacks on social media and gathered her team to assist with the project. This was orchestrated by her legal administrative assistant Jennifer Steiner who helped to organize the supplies donated to go in the backpacks and purchased any additional fillers that the firm felt was needed. She was assisted by local resident Danny McCauley who volunteered to help stuff the backpacks.
Additional backpacks were distributed at the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport and New Covenant Center in Stamford through their food pantries. Over 150 backpacks made their way to help students start off the school year with the supplies needed for success.
For more information on Room to Grow Preschool visit their webpage at https://www.ccfairfield.org/programs/room-to-grow-preschool/.
Written by Amy Zajac