Wuneechanunk Shinnecock Preschool to Open in Southampton

Wuneechanunck Shinnecock Preschool
The Wuneechanunck Shinnecock Preschool, Photos: Courtesy Chaleff and Rogers

For all you students who wait until the last minute to do your homework, let me assure you, sometimes things change—and sometimes they stay the same. I graduated long ago from high school, but I still tend to wait a bit too long to hand in an assignment…like this one. It was due about two months ago, but I have as lame an excuse as whatever you can come up with, and no paper-eating dog was involved.

I started a new job at the Shinnecock Health Services right before Thanksgiving and, lo and behold, my office window looks out on the construction site of the Wuneechanunk Shinnecock Preschool (see slide show below). The Algonquin translates to “Our Children of the Stony Shores.”

Although this article was due around Thanksgiving, as anyone who has been lucky enough to have found a job knows, things tend to be a bit hectic in those first few weeks. And I still had the Wuneechanunk Shinnecock Preschool staring back at me every day, reminding me of my procrastination.

However, trust a beautiful Shinnecock woman to give a non-verbal kick in the pants when needed. This came in the form of project director Lauryn Randall walking past my window last week with tile samples in hand, smiling and waving at me. Nothing motivates like a guilty conscience.

Randall and Donna Bess, the administrative assistant, are the two women responsible for bringing the project to fruition. It had been kicked around since the 1990s. Andrea Godoy and Winona Warren, who wrote the initial grants, began the initial planning and groundwork in 2008.

Randall and Bess came on in 2010. Their paid positions ended a few months ago, but they continue to volunteer, giving endless hours of their time and energy to keep this worthwhile project going. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see one or the other at the site. They took me on a tour earlier this fall (when I first started this article) and there wasn’t anything they didn’t know about the building. Randall explained to me that she and Bess work well together, with Randall being more into the finances, while Bess looks at the big picture. They are both dynamos on their “A game” and share a sense of fortitude that is admirable.

Things really got going in 2012, when the tribe voted overwhelmingly to begin construction. The plans were presented at a tribal meeting—everyone was impressed, since the consensus was that the community needed something positive in a year full of letdowns and negative news stories. It was a time of put up or… and everyone regarded it as an investment in the future of the tribe and its future generations.

Funding for the project came from various sources: an Indian Community Development grant, a Special Initiative Congressional grant obtain by congressman Tim Bishop, The Karrus Foundation, the federal Child Care Development Fund, and most important, at the same tribe meeting that gave the go-ahead to start building—tribal funds were approved to be released from the tightly held tribal account. I must say that this was done with minimal—if any—objections or hoary speeches about spending.

The late Jason King, a young man who had immense artistic talent and one of the co-founders of the Young Men of Shinnecock youth group, designed the logo.

Designed by the Native American–owned architectural firm of WH Pacific teamed with the local firm of Chaleff and Rogers of Water Mill, the center’s four corners sit on the cardinal points of the compass, with its main entrance facing the rising sun in the east. It will initially serve 28 children, from infancy to three years of age. At least six teachers and caregivers will staff it. Randall told me that it would be really wonderful if the majority of the staff were Shinnecock, so all you students out there interested in early childhood education should keep that in mind…and your noses to the grindstone.

Bess and Randall stated that construction is on schedule and they’re looking at a springtime completion. Their next efforts will focus on obtaining long-term operational funding along with underwriters to make enrollment affordable. They are also considering fundraising events such as dances and auctions to keep the funds flowing.

If you are interested in more information about the Wuneechanunk Shinnecock Preschool or want to make a donation (the project is a 501(c)3 and is tax deductible), the website is shinnecockpreschool.com.

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