Person of the Week
Lauren Grogan Brings Recess Bags to Every Elementary Student in North Haven
Lauren Grogan spearheaded an effort to create recess bags for all of North Haven Public Schools’ students in pre-K through 5th grade. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Grogan )
Thanks to the efforts of Lauren Grogan and donations from residents and local businesses, every student from preschool to 5th grade will receive a recess bag. Deliveries of the bags began last week at Montowese and Clintonville and continued this week at Green Acres and Ridge Road.
The project has been months in the making with Lauren originally approaching the administration with the idea in the summer, after creating similar bags for the students at North Haven Child Development Center, which she has owned for the past five years. At the time, she was told that the physical education teachers would be responsible for creating activities and coming up with ideas.
“When my 2nd-grader went back to school in September, she’d come home and ask if she could bring a book or a Barbie to school the next day and when I asked her why, she said there was nothing to do at recess,” says Lauren. “They couldn’t use the playscape or do activities that involved sharing a ball or toy. I reached out to her teacher who said they had 15 kids in the class, and I made and sent in 15 bags.”
Lauren included items that students could use on their own, since they cannot share materials or toys. The recess bags includes things such as Play-Doh, crayons, colored pencils, notebooks, fidget toys, and jump ropes. She also donated a set of cones so the teacher could create obstacle courses for the students.
“I’m always willing and looking for ways to give back to kids. I’m a huge advocate for children and really wanted to make sure they had something to look forward to,” says Lauren. “We keep saying that children are resilient and yes. they are, but they feel the effects of all of this, too, so it was good to be able to give them something exciting. My daughter was telling me about kids who loved the bags or said nice things.”
Lauren saw what a difference the bags made to the students in her daughter’s class and decided to expand her idea. She approached her friend, Anna Buono, at the North Haven Education Foundation (NHEF) about implementing the idea district-wide at the elementary level.
The pair began fundraising, putting out a call for donations through the NHEF and approaching local businesses. More than $11,000 was raised throughout the fundraising campaign, allowing them to stuff 1,500 bags for every student in elementary school.
In addition to the help received the NHEF and donations from local businesses and residents, there were several volunteers who helped sort and stuff the bags. Lauren was happy to see how many people were will to donate funds or their time to the effort, including people whose children aren’t even in elementary school.
“We set things up in an open garage like an assembly line and sorted and stuffed bags with items that were developmentally appropriate for each group—we did pre-K to 2nd grade, and 3rd to 5th grade,” says Lauren. “None of this would have been possible without the local businesses who donated and the moms, including those whose kids aren’t even in the schools yet, who offered to help. That was pretty awesome.”
Lauren also had more help at home as 7-year-old Giuliana and 5-year-old Natalia were excited to help their mom by unpacking the many boxes that were delivered and helping assemble the bags.
“It was nice for them to be able to see me do this and knowing you have to do for others if you’re fortunate enough to be able to,” says Lauren. “We’re always trying to do stuff at the community level.”
This isn’t the first time her children have helped Lauren give back to the community. Since her childcare center’s opening, it has held a holiday toy drive for Yale New Haven Hospital. Guests bring a donation of a toy and then enjoy refreshments, crafts, and a visit with Santa. Due to COVID, Lauren was unable to host the event, but she and her daughters still donated toys to the North Haven Police Department’s drive. They also made cards for the children at Yale and sent a monetary donation to continue to support the toy closet.
Lauren grew up in North Haven and has always loved the community, recalling her love of sports growing up, being a captain of the soccer team, and lifelong friendships. When she and husband, Brian, were looking for a home, she was adamant that she wanted to raise their family in North Haven.
Lauren also now owns a business in North Haven. She had worked in New Haven with Head Start for eight years, but had always dreamed of owning her own center. Five years ago, she “took a leap of faith” and opened North Haven Child Development Center. There are two buildings on the property and she started in one building with 36 kids, serving infants through Kindergarteners, and now operates out of both buildings with 60 kids.
Running a childcare center during a pandemic has been a challenge, especially as her husband is a first responder who works the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. Despite the challenges, Lauren’s center has remained open through the pandemic, serving many families of nurses, doctors, and first responders.
“We were working a lot to keep the business open and safe—there were definitely challenges and a lot of juggling, but we did it,” says Lauren. “Summer is when the state really came out with guidance for daycares and preschool programs and we worked to reconfigure and restructure to meet the new requirements because my kids and families wanted to come back.”
In addition, Lauren and her family have juggled her older daughter’s classes as well. There have been several changes with North Haven schools as they started remote, went to hybrid and then full-time before returning to remote, and now going back in a hybrid form.
“We’ve had to rely on our village—grandparents and babysitters—as we both work out of the house,” says Lauren, who enjoys spending time with her family, going on hikes with their dog, and watching her daughters play sports. “We’re just very thankful for the teachers and educators who are doing the best that they can as we are doing the best that we can.”
As North Haven just shifted back to a hybrid in-school schedule, the recess bags have been distributed at a perfect time. Students will now have access to their own bags of activities and Lauren hopes that in addition to giving them something to do, some of the items will encourage movement.
“Recess looks so much different. They can’t run around and play with friends so we wanted to make sure they got things in there to keep the gross motor going like jump ropes or wrist balls,” says Lauren. “With everything going on, they’re stuck at their desks in the same classroom all day so it’s great for them to be able to release that energy.”
Donations are now being accepted so that bags can be re-stocked in the spring. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .