For Kids Only Afterschool held a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony April 28 for its spectacular new building at 233 Winthrop Street.
It was a day of celebration and reflection of how far FKO has come as a Winthrop-based treasure of children’s educational programs since its launch in 1984.
In his introduction of FKO Executive Director Deborah Kneeland Keegan, Town Council President James Letterie noted how For Kids Only has had several homes in the town for its after-school program.
“They’ve been great partners for the schools and the town,” said Letterie. “Debbie is one of the most passionate, caring and driven persons I know, and I feel very fortunate to call her my friend.”
Kneeland said, “It’s been a long time. We started with this project back in 2016 and we broke ground in 2018, and then the world-wide pandemic hit. The whole town was watching this building sitting there. But we made it because of all of you here, and I’m so grateful.”
Kneeland Keegan is considered a pioneer in the field of afterschool educational programs. Forty years ago, she determined that children needed organized, afterschool programs for the critical hours of 3 to 6 p.m. each day. She worked hard to launch For Kids Only, making it one of the first licensed, after-school programs in Massachusetts. FKO now operates in Winthrop, Revere, Chelsea, Everett, and Peabody.
Kneeland Keegan told the large and enthusiastic gathering at the ceremony, “FKO now has our own forever home in the heart of Winthrop.”
And that solar-powered home is extraordinary, with spacious areas for a teach-in kitchen, a gymnasium, a library, library, STEAM lab, early childhood classroom, multi-person movement studio, and a reflection room.
The half-court gymnasium, where the speaking program was held, will certainly be in demand in a sports-minded town like Winthrop. The reflection room, designed by interior designer Corina Boncore, was a bold, creative idea, but one that has been well received by parents and children.
“The building presents itself as a welcoming, homelife atmosphere that we cannot be prouder of,” said Kneeland Keegan.
Members of Winthrop’s Levesque family, who lived in the former home on Winthrop Street that is now FKO’s flagship, were in attendance.
The new FKO building, like FKO itself, will no doubt become a national model in afterschool programming. In fact, the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce recently honored FKO with its Visual Achievement Award. Manuel Tavares was the chief architect for the project. CBC Construction was the general contractor.
Kneeland Keegan also praised local historian and architect Frank Constantino “who worked with us to maintain the historical integrity” of the site.
Robert A. DeLeo Early Education Classroom is Dedicated
The celebration also included the dedication of the Robert A. DeLeo Early Education Classroom in honor of the former House Speaker.
“The leadership that Bob DeLeo gave to the Commonwealth over his twelve years as Speaker and his 30 years as a representative have transformed not just this town, but the Commonwealth with so many different issues,” lauded Rep. Jeff Turco. “Mr. Speaker, we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for your bold leadership years ago to prioritize early childhood education. Your achievements for this Commonwealth and this town in early childhood education are unparalleled, and people will talk about you for decades to come about what you’ve done to transform our town.”
Kneeland Keegan said she first met DeLeo in the 1970s when they were both serving on the JCC, “which is a leadership training organization that is dedicated to grassroots, community service.”
“I know Bob is a person who is understanding, generous, kind, and caring,” said Kneeland Keegan. “I know him as a loving father and grandfather. As Speaker, he always prioritized high-quality, early education and after school programming for every child in this Commonwealth. We are grateful for his unwavering friendship and tremendous leadership.”
DeLeo, who was joined at the event by his daughter, Rachele, and his granddaughter, Autumn, accepted a citation of appreciation from FKO, who “is pleased to announce that our Early Childhood Classroom is being named in your honor.”
DeLeo received the largest ovation of the day. He summarized the recognition humbly, “Wow. I thought I was just going to see a ribbon-cutting and that was going to be it. But I have to tell you how really special this is. The former Speaker is a little bit speechless.”
But as many, including FKO Executive Director Deborah Kneeland Keegan have said, Bob DeLeo wass the state’s true champion of early childhood education and afterschool programming throughout his illustrious career as a state representative and the longest-serving Spealer of the House.
The grand opening of the new For Kids Only building – 40 years after it all began – was a triumph for all, especially the children of Winthrop who get to enjoy the beautiful, state-of-the-art building and interact with the professional, caring staff that works there shaping lives in a positive way each day.