Project MOST is a well-known nonprofit on the East End that has provided low-cost afterschool enrichment programs at East Hampton’s John M. Marshall Elementary School since 2000, and it expanded to the Springs Elementary School in 2007. This Sunday, March 10, marks their 10th annual Empty Bowls benefit, which will help to fund a future, year-round space for the organization.
In addition to its school-year offerings, Project MOST fills several sites with avid learners, from Pre-K through eighth grade, in their summer day camp, as well. This year, Executive Director Rebecca Morgan Taylor explains, “The Springs School will be under construction this summer, so we won’t have a summer program, or access to the greenhouse there. We’ve been a site-bound program for the last 20 years; now we’re feeling constricted by those walls.”
Susan Hanley, Project MOST Development Director, adds, “We launched a capital campaign in November and added five new board members to help take our organization to the next level. We’re searching for our own space to expand to weekends, school vacations, a full summer—not just afterschool anymore. We want to include seniors citizens in multi-generational programming for the whole community.” Presumably, Project MOST could then extend their mission to students of all ages, lifelong learners, “to approach life with a sense of joy.”
Taylor, who has been working in the program for the last 15 years, says they’ve offered family events that involve parents for the past several years. The most popular have centered on cooking, and take place on evenings throughout the school year. Art and science programs have also caught on.
Staffed in part, from September to June, by 45 group leaders who are high school and college students, Project MOST is the largest employer of high school students in the area. In addition to wages, these leaders receive on-the-job training, as well as college and career counseling. Taylor reflects, “Absolutely the best thing is when students who came as kids are now working for us in high school and college. Some of them are in school to become teachers.”
Hanley notes that the program’s enrichment teachers are world-class artists and other top-notch professionals, and that their team is constantly looking for talent in the community. As she says, “We’re all very passionate about the program!”
The “most” in its name comes from its mission to “create lasting change in our community and a pathway to the future…inspire a new generation of students to achieve their utMOST in life through outstanding afterschool programming and personal, supportive relationships.”
Teaching professionals and volunteers from the community offer students a wide range of topics and activities to choose from. These include kitchen science club, healthy cooking classes, STEM, academic assistance, soccer, Homework Club, cultural field trips, storytelling, English as a Second Language, swimming, yoga, dance, pottery, art, ukulele lessons, photography, health & wellness, as well as gardening in and around their greenhouse.
As Project MOST Education Director Martha Stotzky says, “We teach many things at Project MOST. I think that one of the most important is where our food comes from, and how what we grow and eat impacts both the environment and our bodies. Our students have learned how to plant, maintain, harvest, and prepare a huge variety of vegetables over the years! I have been with Project MOST for 10 years, and I have seen how much broader our students’ tastes have become, and how they really understand the importance of gardening organically.”
Hanley points out that by hosting over 300 students a day, “we’ve served over 6,000 working families over the years. But we’re not just here for working families, they are the majority, but some of our students are only children who need more social interaction, and we offer the convenience of different enrichment classes all in one place—we’re open to everyone.”
You can join the fun with Project MOST this Sunday from noon–3 p.m. at American Legion Post 419 at 15 Montauk Highway in Amagansett. Tickets at the door—for all the soup you care to eat—are $15 per adult; $5 for children 13 and under; kids under 5 free. The delicious soups are prepared and donated by more than 30 local chefs and restaurants. You can even bring your own bowl for “The MOST soup!”
During the event, Project MOST will present their second Empty Bowl Award to Colin Ambrose of Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor for his continuing support of and understanding of the importance of afterschool enrichment in East Hampton. Kathee Burke Gonzalez, Town Board Member, and Peter Van Scoyoc, Town Supervisor, received the first Empty Bowl Awards in 2018 for their support of the the nonprofit.
Ambrose says, “The Empty Bowls fundraisers are a wonderful example of how the group comes together to lend a hand through spirit, flavor and focus on community. It’s an honor to be recognized among a group of men and women who help children in our complex community. As a local chef and restaurant owner, I’m proud to be a supporter of Project MOST because its edible schoolyard programming was originally funded through local, chef-driven initiatives. And Project MOST is a natural choice because it not only provides vital service to our children with afterschool programming, it also teaches them to appreciate and respect soil, seeds and the nutritional balance that comes from making an effort to engage in the process of growing food.”
In addition to there being loads of gourmet soups from 30 chefs and restaurants, Carissa’s Bakery in East Hampton is donating a 10th Anniversary cake accompanied by…Dreesen’s famous donuts! The cake will be cut at 1:15 p.m.
Project MOST participants also engage in celebrations—like their upcoming Family Cooking International Feast—and other fundraising events throughout the year. Annual events include the East Hampton Village Fair and the Hamptons Marathon, both in September, and a Chefs Benefit Dinner/Seed Exchange in November. This year’s fundraisers include a Truth Training Kettle Ball Challenge on Friday, March 22; EHIT Clubhouse Concert featuring the Complete Unknowns on Friday, April 26; and a Cinco de Mayo Celebration at the Neighborhood House on Saturday, May 4.
For more information on all things Project MOST, visit projectmost.com.