When First Parish Church began its campaign to save The Grange in Northville this year, The Rev. Dianne Rodriguez not only envisioned a resurrection of the structure, but programs that would make the old Sound Avenue building a true community center.
On July 5, another goal toward that end was achieved with the opening of the six-day-a-week Grange New Life Summer Day Camp for youths from Riverhead and Greenport, from ages of 3 and 14.
Under the direction of Crystal Anderson, 25 children from the two communities are being bused to The Grange to participate in games, arts and crafts, theater, dance, physical education, photography and field trips.
Ms. Anderson was the driving force behind the Forever Young Foundation to revitalize Greenport’s Third Street basketball court in honor of her cousin, Corey Freeman and his friend, Jefferson “Naquawn” Treadwell, both killed in separate motor vehicle accidents in 2010. Through various activities there, she raised several thousand dollars, some of which was put to use cleaning up the site. The balance was turned over to Greenport Village for continuing efforts to revitalize the court.
Ms. Anderson’s charge from First Parish Church’s Spiritual Renewal Center is not only to create the summer camp program, but to lay the groundwork for ongoing youth programs to operate at The Grange year-round.
“At first I was a little hesitant,” she said about tackling the job. But now she says the building has brought her much peace.
As children played downstairs toward the end of the first day, painter Angel Colon worked upstairs on the large room that once hosted the First Universalist Church congregation, which now holds its services at the Jamesport Meeting House.
Members of the National Grange met in the hall in the early 20th Century to discuss farming. The circa 1831 building has also served as a school and as the original sanctuary of the First Parish Church.
While renovations are ongoing, the building’s face-lift has come a long way thanks to the support of area merchants and public contributions. Workers continue to complete the renovations as children’s laughter fills the hallways, thanks to the summer camp program that runs through Sept. 2.
“I thought it was going to be boring,” said Isaiah Brumskill, 10, of Riverhead. But after a kickball game, he decided camp wasn’t so dull after all and was looking forward to coming back the next day.
“It was really fun,” agreed his friend, Anthony Williams, 9, of Riverhead.
“I didn’t expect it to actually come together,” Ms. Anderson admitted, saying she was waiting for someone to come and take it all away.
“But what God has for you, no one can take away.”
Ms. Anderson expected a Spanish-speaking counselor to join the staff last week and said she’s determined to learn Spanish so she can work effectively with Hispanic children.
“The recession has hit us hard,” Ms. Anderson said, noting that many families couldn’t afford the more than $700 other community camps charge. Campers at The Grange are charged $475 and Ms. Anderson wants to assure no child is turned away for lack of money.
She’s hoping to hook up with Long Island Cares to help assure the campers have breakfast and healthy snacks available since some come from homes where money is tight.
She’d like to foster an anti-bullying campaign and provide kids who feel they don’t fit in a place to air their emotions.
“We want to give this building new life and a new heartbeat,” Ms. Anderson said.