She was waiting for a table at Smokey Bones on Route 2 in Warwick with her family, when a waitress ran up to her “freaking out” and excitedly hugging her. The waitress then bent …
She was waiting for a table at Smokey Bones on Route 2 in Warwick with her family, when a waitress ran up to her “freaking out” and excitedly hugging her. The waitress then bent down to her (then) young daughters and asked, “do you know what your mother does?”, and before they could even finish the sentence “she works for…..” the waitress said “no, she changes lives!” It was at that seminal moment that Lara D’Antuono, now CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Warwick, knew that her life’s devotion was worth every second of sacrifice and hard work.
Lara has literally spent most of her adult life helping the 1,700 or so boys and girls, ages 5 to 18, who pass through the doors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Warwick who annually receive critical support and services from the Clubs three locations in Warwick: the Norwood Branch at 42 Frederick Street, the Oakland Beach Branch at 340 Oakland Beach Avenue and the Club at the Cooper Branch at 888 Sandy Lane.
Lara was born in Cranston, the daughter of Sal Saccoccio, the legendary Architect known to virtually everyone in construction related businesses, and mom Dot, who took care of their four children: Lara, brother Mark (who currently runs the successful Architectural firm and has grown it exponentially), brother Michael and sister Lisa.
Lara attended Cranston schools, graduating from Cranston West High School in 1989, then attended Rhode Island College where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in communications.
She had the full intention of becoming a speech pathologist, but the day that she walked through the door of the Boys & Girls Clubs building in Norwood, was the day that changed her life.
Asked why, she answered, “I had a great family life. Great friends. I went to the Club and saw kids that never had someone come up to them and ask, ‘How was your day today?’ Every kid should have that! I wanted to make sure that every kid that walks through the door knows that they’re important. This is for them.”
The “Clubs”, as she calls them, are a whirlwind of activity throughout the entire year, ranging from the “STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), an 8 to 10 week summer program at the Norwood facility where participants build robots, do computer programming and other neat kinds of Dr. Who stuff, to the Oakland Beach Branch where the more traditional summer program with swimming, sports and arts and crafts are on the daily activity list.
At Cooper, there’s a music related theme for middle school students and freshmen in High School, all free for participants. Cooper is ideally located within walking distance of Vets Middle School.
You really have to check out the website to see the robust list of events and activities that span not only the summer, but also happen year-round.
Costs range, depending on the program selected, from free to $200 per week.
Everyone gets a free lunch, and there are scholarships for those who qualify. According to Lara, “anyone who fills out the form completely has never been turned away. We are “needs based.”
Camps run in the summer from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and during the winter, their licensed day care program, which has been heralded by state officials, is highly requested, serving over 800 participants.
There is a waiting list, and we can all understand why.
Nervous parents sometimes must make the awful decision as to whether to work or stay home with their children. Sometimes just because of the gap that exists from when they might have to report to work at 7 a.m. to the time school starts at 8:30. Or the hour or two after school, after which parents can pick up their kids. Programs are designed to fill that gap.
Daycare programs might range from $50 a week (to fill that gap every day) to full-time daycare at $200 per week.
Today, the challenges faced by growing families have grown exponentially. It takes time and leadership to meet those challenges, and since the day in 1994 when she walked through that door, Lara has demonstrated those important qualities, starting as Child Care Director, then Development Director, rising to the position of Executive Director in 2000, and now CEO, overseeing all three branches as well as the related outreach programs and government and corporate relations.
The Clubs work closely with the Warwick School Department, Police Department, Fire Department and Social Service agencies.
Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games.
“We see a lot of mental health issues in our members. It’s a growing problem. So, we hired a full-time social worker to address those issues.”
If that’s not enough on her plate, Lara also pitches in to other state and local organizations.
She is Secretary of the Warwick Rotary, serves on the Boys & Girls Clubs of America safety committee, is a certified “Praesidium Guardian”, (a sexual abuse prevention safety specialists), a member of the Warwick Coalition, and the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce to name a few.
Thankfully, she has the love and support of husband Anthony and daughters Bianca and Vanessa, who I’m certain pitch in when they can.
And, oh yes, no big surprise here, she’s an adrenalin junkie who jumps out of planes, scuba dives, rappels down cliffs and loves to cook (she raises money for the Clubs by volunteering her services at auctions where if you are the winning bidder, she will go to your house to cook a special meal). I was going to ask her if she also cooked French food, but I’ll check on that later.
Former Warwick Mayor and RIPTA CEO Scott Avedisian, a long-time pal of Lara, sums it up nicely saying,” Lara is tenacious. He has led the Boys & Girls Clubs of Warwick for decades. But her shining moments have been her community spirit and the way that she was able to be nimble and adaptive during the pandemic. She kept the Clubs as relevant and meaningful as ever through distance learning and other innovative programming. As we move past that, she is already looking at expansion so that we meet the needs of more kids in the future.”
So, if you’re looking for some after school, summer, or year-round programs for your children, ranging from building robots to doing cannonballs in the pool, or if you, like so many, need an affordable day care option, check out their website at: WBGClubs.org. Or give Lara a call at the Club at 401-467-4385.
As that famous automobile guy says, “you’ll be glad you did.”
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