Boxes, Kids Reign

Mary Johnson PhotoKids used cardboard boxes, paint and imagination to transform the Branford Green into a whimsical world Saturday afternoon.

Inspired by the book “Not a Box,” youngsters turned cardboard boxes into town buildings, a rabbit, a museum, a robot and everything their young minds and hands could create.

Mary Johnson PhotoThey even fit themselves into a box.

Mary Johnson PhotoDante Brunnell, 5, puts the finishing touches on his red-haired robot.

“I love to see what they come up with,” said Jodi Kelly, executive director of the Branford Early Childhood Collaborative (BECC), as she watched the youngsters work. “We really reach out to bring the community together.”

Mary Johnson PhotoKelly is pictured in center, with Wendy Miler, coordinator of Family Resource Center and her daughter Morgan Miller, 6.

Mary Johnson PhotoThe BECC sponsored the event, which drew a strong crowd, as part of One Book One Town, and the Week of the Young Child.  Earlier this month, the BECC distributed 1,245 copies of “Not a Box,” written by Antoinette Portis, to youngsters from pre-school to second grade. Click here to read about that. The book, which tells the story of a young rabbit who creates things out of boxes, was the motivation for the box-building venture. Many of the boxes depicting the town buildings were crafted at pre-schools and elementary schools prior to Saturday’s event.

Mary Johnson PhotoLuca DiLegge, 3, is happy with the box town the children created.

“I think it’s outstanding. It allows them to think outside the box,” said Luca’s mom, Gina DiLegge, who’s husband Billy owns Pasta Cosi restaurant in Branford. Luca and classmates created a box at school depicting Zane’s Cycle shop in Branford.

Mary Johnson PhotoHowever, some kids like to think inside the box first. Pictured here are Christopher Distasio, 2, (left); and Colin Walsh, 9.

“All the smiles…it’s awesome,”  said Christopher’s mom Michele Distasio.  “Who needs toys, really?”

Mary Johnson PhotoTwins Alexander and Amalia Romero, 5, work on their creation.

Mary Johnson PhotoZuzu Rose Pont Strong, 5 and her dad have fun with finger paints.

Mary Johnson PhotoAmber Gallo, 3, likes purple paint.

“I think it’s nice all getting together to do artistic things,” said Amber’s mom Pamela Brown.

Mary Johnson PhotoMike Rescigno and Alexandra, 9, work on what will become a Science Center, like the one in Hartford.

Mary Johnson PhotoJulia Albert, 4, puts the finishing touches on a box rabbit that looks like her favorite stuffed animal “Pink-pink.”

Mary Johnson PhotoOne unidentified pooch took in the scene, wondering what these kids were up to.


“This is a wonderful day. This is a celebration of literacy,”  Kelly said during a brief program before the box-making began.

The BECC is a collaborative entity working with key partners to promote the health and well being of youngsters. Town officials and state legislators joined the BECC and families on the Green Saturday to present the first annual Children’s Champions awards. Kate Marsland, BECC chair, announced the two women being honored.

Janice Gruendel, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families, was honored by the BECC for her work on the state level; and Pat Andriole, executive director of the Branford Counseling Center, was honored on the local level.

“What could be better than getting an honor for being a champion for children?” Andriole asked. “Aren’t we all champions for children? The BECC is doing a tremendous job.”

A literary highlight of the afternoon was when First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos and Beryl Meiner, director of the Branford Early Learning Center, gave a rousing reading of the book, “Not a Box.”

Joining in the festivities were state Senator Edward Meyer; Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford; and state Rep. Pat Widlitz, D-Guilford and Branford.

“People really believe in the cause and the importance of literacy,” said Robin Comey, vice-chair of the BECC. Comey was congratulated for her planning of the One Book One Town events and the festivities Saturday.

Funds to purchase the books were donated by Comcast, East Shore Region Adult and Continuing Education (ERASE), United Way of Greater New Haven and the Branford Rotary.

It was also announced that Comcast employees spent Saturday volunteering their efforts to clean and paint the Community Dining Room in Branford as part of Comcast Cares Day.

Pat Kral, executive director of the Community Dining Room, thanked Comcast for its hard work. “It’s all about volunteers,” Kral said. “Together we make a huge, huge difference.”

The 10th annual Shoreline Walkathon took place Saturday morning to raise money for the Community Dining Room. 

The BECC also began distributing surveys Saturday that the organization will be using to learn more about young children and educational programs. Copies will be available at Town Hall and the libraries. There will also be links to online surveys on the town Web site and the Branford School District site. Marsland said they would like the surveys to be returned before Mothers Day, May 12, and the results will be announced on Fathers Day, June 16, at the Branford Festival.

The Week of the Young Child is an annual event sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children to bring attention to the needs of young children and their families.

Musical entertainment throughout the afternoon was provided by Starving Artists Tackle Broadway.


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