Preston — Youth Services Director Amy Brosnan donned an Easter bunny head mask and knocked on doors of local seniors and shut-ins to deliver colorful crafted clay pot bunnies, candy and carrot-shaped bags of cheese ball snacks.
“We’re here from the town of Preston,” she called to Downing Drive residents Minnie, 81, and Vito Manuzzi, 85. “We’re here to spread some cheer before Easter to brighten your day.”
“Thank you so much!” Minnie Manuzzi responded.
“The bunny is here, Uncle Richie!” Annette Stockwell called to her uncle Richard Fleming of Prodell Road.
“We’re here to bring you some spring cheer for you,” Brosnan called.
Fleming gladly accepted the treats and bunny pot. “I really appreciate you coming,” Stockwell said.
On McClimon Road, Kayden Day, 7, and her brother, Kamdyn, 4, accompanied Brosnan to present their bunny to family friend Sue McClimon.
“It’s amazing,” McClimon, 61, said. “I love you guys!”
Brosnan delivered about 70 bunnies and treats this week and even posed for some selfie photos with residents.
The pot bunnies and Easter treats were part of Art from the Heart, the Preston Youth Services Bureau’s new program to let Preston residents, local businesses and other town agencies know that the nearly dormant agency is back.
Youth Services Bureaus provide key services to children and families, such as health and safety programs and identify specific local needs. In Preston, the agency sponsors the DARE drug education program, run by Resident State Trooper Armando Bettini.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency sponsored school assemblies on internet safety and a homework club.
But even before the pandemic, the bureau’s advisory board was limping. Members resigned and meetings were canceled for lack of a quorum. Several town officials stepped in to ensure services continued, including former First Selectman Robert Congdon, school Superintendent Roy Seitsinger and Principals Ivy Davis-Tomczuk and Ray Bernier.
Youth Services Bureaus are governed by the state Department of Children and Families, which mandates advisory boards include a youth member, police representative, school representative and a private youth organization member.
The advisory board held online meetings this winter and met with youth services directors in Montville and Lyme/Old Lyme for advice and to learn about programs.
Melissa Lennon, former Board of Finance chairwoman, joined the Youth Advisory Board as a community member and was elected chairwoman in March, along with Vice Chairwoman Amanda Phelps, Secretary Rachel Tucker and youth member Zachary Robinson. School social worker Jessica Boucher is the one voting school representative, and the Rev. Kim Litsey, pastor at St. James Episcopal Church, is the private youth program member.
The two school principals and First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier will serve as nonvoting board liaisons.
In April the board will consider expanding to nine members and adding an alternate to help with quorum issues, Lennon said.
Brosnan also is town Parks and Recreation director, but she and Lennon stressed that the Youth Services Bureau has a different role. The agency is encouraged to partner with fellow town agencies, outside groups and the schools but remain independent, Lennon said.
“They really do have two different missions,” Lennon said. “We’re looking to get more face time in the community, be more visible in the town, so people will see how youth services is different from parks and rec.”
Preston Youth Services launched its revival with Art with a Heart, collaborating with Preston Senior Affairs. They purchased craft kits from local Cow Bell Trading Post. In winter, the two dozen kits each contained materials to make five snowmen. The spring kits contained materials to make six clay pot bunnies.
“It’s good, because it works for both of us,” Cow Bell owner Jen Ihloff said, “as far as me being able to provide something, and keeping it local in town.”
Brosnan asked children to keep one item, give one to a neighbor or friend and give at least two crafts to the town to be delivered to seniors and shut-ins. The children put their names on the bottoms of the bunny pots.
“Some bunny is thinking of you as we are hoppin’ toward Easter!!” the attached card states. “This adorable bunny was handmade with love for you by a Preston child. He’s here to remind you to don’t worry, be happy — and of course, bring a smile to your face!!”
In May, the Youth Services Bureau will put out a community needs survey. Parents, youths, school staff and the public will be asked for input, and the advisory board will use the responses to help plan programs and services.
The bureau launched a virtual parents’ workshop, “Stress Happens,” on Wednesday, with upcoming sessions on April 7, 21 and 28. The program is free and parents can attend any or all sessions. Some spots are available to parents from other towns.
Preston partnered with Norwich Youth Services and several other towns’ youth agencies to co-sponsor a live online screening at 7 p.m. April 8 of “Like,” a documentary on the dominance of social media over in-person interactions. A live panel discussion will follow the documentary.
To register for the April 8 documentary and panel discussion, go to bit.ly/likescreening.
The Youth Services Advisory Board meets at 4 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month, virtually for now. Agendas and minutes are posted on the town website, www.preston-ct.org, where Youth Services Bureau has a homepage.
“We’re excited,” Lennon said. “This is a brand new chapter, a chance to look forward and get youth services out in the community.”