Little Rascals summer program seeks new activity director

SHARON — Since it began in the 1970s providing summer employment for local youth and summer activities for local youngsters, the Little Rascals program is gearing up for what is hoped to be a successful 2024 summer season under a new director and staff.

The search for a new Little Rascals director is underway, according to Sharon Parks and Recreation Director Matt Andrulis Mette, who paused work for an interview on Wednesday, March 27, held at the Town Beach at Mudge Pond on a drizzly gray morning.

The affordable program offers families who live or work in Sharon a viable option for supervised programming serving children aged 5-12, and it begins immediately following the end of the school year. And, for older teens and college-age staff, Little Rascals offers employment and resume-enhancing experience.

From 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday participants take part in a long day of activities, the program offers swim lessons, arts and crafts, sporting activities, theme days and more, depending on the talents presented by the Director and staff. (Half-day rates are also offered)

Appealing to young families living in Sharon, the program has always welcomed families who work in town, such as at Sharon Hospital where it has been a valuable resource for hospital employees.

In recent years, however, enrollment numbers have declined.

“Now there are fewer kids in town and fewer people on the hospital staff,” Andrulis Mette said.

In the early years, the program was self-funded, the income from fees being sufficient to maintain operations, Andrulis Mette said. But as of four years ago, the town began contributing funds to support the programs, including bus transportation.

And then, two summers ago, Andrulis Mette recalled, when income dropped during the pandemic, the town contributed funds to support the salaries of the director and assistant director. In past years, those two leadership positions were often filled by former staff members who returned as adults, Andrulis Mette said.

Looking to the future, Andrulis Mette is studying a model where the program might become nonprofit and offer year-round programming.

“Forming a nonprofit would not happen in time for this summer, however,” Andrulis Mette said. “I’ve had ten people ask about the program for this year, hoping it will be offered.”

Speaking for the Parks and Recreation Department, Andrulis Mette said, “We think the town needs to fund it.”

Andrulis Mette estimated at least 17 kids must be enrolled for the program to financially survive. He said that few kids are there for the beginning of summer, generally waiting until after July 4 to join the program. After that, Little Rascals breaks even, but the program does not make up the loss experienced in the early few weeks.

“It’s low-key; it’s why people want it. It’s a small-town version of a Town Beach,” Andrulis Mette said. “We recognize the challenges of attracting and keeping young families and the need for affordable housing.”

“You need amenities like Little Rascals if you want people to join the community,” Andrulis Mette said.

The details of the program for 2024 have yet to be determined and will be designed by the new director and assistant director once hired.

“While I am responsible, I have not been involved on a daily basis,” Andrulis Mette said, adding that former longtime Director Liz Cash has offered to help with transition.

By May 1, Andrulis Mette hopes to have found the new director so that May can be devoted to rounding up young staff members.

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