Putting Kids First

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It is funded by the New York State Department of Education and the Department of Health. “We saw so many agencies out there doing their thing, and we really thought we could do better,” said Plumitallo, a psychologist who previously worked in preschools. “Our big initiative is really communication with the families, so the parents truly understand that they’re part of this solution.

“If we don’t work collectively as a team,” she added, “nobody gets better.”

Jessica Valenti, who lives in Salisbury, has taken her 4-year-old son Jack to Kids First for speech therapy since April. He was always shy and reluctant to talk, she explained, but has made great progress since the therapy began. “He’s a totally different child now,” said Valenti. “It’s done a world of difference.”

Tara Miguel, who coordinates family support groups and supervises family counseling for Kids First, suggested the holiday photo event. “One of the things that comes up with the parents, that they struggle with this time of year, is this whole photo situation,” said Miguel, of Merrick, a mother of five.

“So we thought by having the people they trust and they know … to get them in and comfortable with the photo,” Plumitallo added, “we’re the best place to do it.”

In a couple of hours, Matarazzo snapped photographs for approximately 25 families. Matarazzo, a professional photographer whose wife works for Kids First, volunteered to take the photos.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for kids, and it’s fun to get them exposed to something like this,” said Long Beach resident Gina Richardson, who was having photos taken of her two children, Lauren and Brian. Richardson, a graduate of East Meadow High School, said she wouldn’t have had time for a holiday photo session otherwise.

Deanna Bonilla said that photographs are a “nightmare” for her 2-year-old twins, Dylan and Joseph, but when she brought them to Kids First, she said, “They actually sat and followed directions. It was amazing.”

The event was so successful, Miguel said, that they decided it would become an annual occurrence. “It ended up busier than we expected,” she said. “We decided this is going to be a tradition that we’ll offer every year.”

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