When Chef John Lawrence of Peppers Artful Events isn’t preparing gourmet meals in the company’s Northborough kitchen, you might find him at Worcester’s Rainbow Child Development Center.
But he’s not there to prepare food for young children—not exactly.
During free weeknight cooking classes, Lawrence guides parents and caregivers through nutritious meals they can prepare quickly, and on a budget. Parents then bring the meals home, along with enough ingredients to prepare the same dish once more in their own kitchens.
Monthly cooking classes are just one example of Rainbow Child Development Center’s holistic approach to early education and care and out-of-school time programs. Each week at Rainbow, more than 130 at-risk youth enjoy enrichment opportunities that children and families with greater means may take for granted—and which improve their opportunity to succeed in elementary school and beyond.
“There’s an opportunity gap for many of our children, and that leads to an achievement gap,” says Strategic Communication and Development Manager Nancy Thibeault. “They simply do not get exposed to the same social-emotional learning and cultural experiences as other young people. We’re here to fill in the gaps so they have a fair shot, just like every other child.”
To do so, Rainbow brings the outside in–and, in a city as culturally rich as Worcester, talented people and organizations have jumped at the chance to help. In addition to Peppers Artful Catering, regular visitors include Chickees Dance Studio, Worcester Expressive Therapies, Crocodile River Music, and volunteers from local colleges and universities, including the College of the Holy Cross, Assumption University, and Anna Maria College.
Children even have access to dental check-ups, eye exams, and free eyeglasses through the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
“It really is an incredible team effort, and not only with the people and organizations that visit us,” says Thibault. “We’re part of an amazing network of childcare and youth services programs in the city, and we get financial support from foundations, philanthropic agencies, and businesses. Their funding makes these programs possible. Everyone plays a role.”
During COVID, Rainbow’s emphasis on health and social-emotional development may be more important than ever. The trauma, social isolation, and food and economic insecurity experienced by at-risk youth has only increased during the pandemic. For some, Rainbow’s staff, visiting professionals and volunteers create the only consistently safe and nurturing environment they know.
“Every single day there are trusted adults here who care about them, who say, ‘Hi, good to see you,’ and even that makes a big difference. It’s a little oasis for the children, and for the parents themselves. They know we’re always here.”
Edward Street partners with local early childhood programs like Rainbow Child Development Center to ensure high-quality learning and care for all young children and families.