GREENWICH—Peter and Barbara Ripp of Greenwich, lifelong supporters of Catholic education, have given a $1 million gift to Foundations in Education to create an early learning program for three- and four-year-old children in the Diocese of Bridgeport.Their donation will establish the Christopher Ripp Early Learning Program in memory of their son.
“Peter and Barbara are people of great faith with a strong commitment to Catholic education,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said. “Their gift will serve the youngest and most vulnerable children in our midst, through an early intervention program that will be piloted at St. Peter School in Danbury in September. It is my deeply held belief that this program will have a huge impact on the lives of the children and parents who enroll. It is a major piece of the transformation of our schools.”
Dr. Steven Cheeseman, superintendent of schools, said the gift will create a “wrap around” component to existing programs in parochial school pre-K3 and pre-K4 classes and provide three- and four-year-olds with academic enrichment and remediation assistance.
The goals of the program are to assist parents as primary educators of their children by giving them tools to help nurture social, physical, emotional and academic growth in a faith-filled and family-centered learning community and to provide tuition assistance to children who want to attend the state readiness program or who wish to be enrolled in the parochial school pre-K3 and pre-K4 programs.
Peter Ripp, the chief operating officer for NIC Holding Corp., a petroleum services and trading company, said he was impressed by Bishop Caggiano’s willingness to work with them to implement their vision for a preschool program that fosters strong parental involvement.
“Foundations has such an amazing vision, and they were willing to help us realize our hopes,” Peter said. “Barbara and I contribute our services and resources as we are able, because we believe that a life lived well is one that contributes as best it can to the good of others.”
The Ripps also believe in the importance of teaching children their faith and wanted a program that provides a combination of “academics and faith building—and some fun.”
Barbara Ripp, who has spent much of her professional life teaching in underserved communities in early childhood education and later in child advocacy, emphasized the need for parental involvement. “We wanted a program that would engage parents and provide opportunities, so that once or twice a month they can come and be educated.”
The Christopher Ripp Early Learning Program will add on to the preschool at St. Peter’s in Danbury. A “wrap around” component means there will be after-school opportunities for children until caregivers arrive to pick them up. They hope to have a light meal and additional time for community meetings with the parents and children, so that adults can receive guidance in their children’s education and a greater understanding of the faith.
“What excites me is that this will plant seeds with very young children,” Barbara said. “Much of their brain development occurs by five years old, and it is so important to educate them from an early age in their faith. It will also make raising children easier for parents and help them go into elementary school better prepared.”
There is a quote in the Book of Proverbs that she believes captures their hopes: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6).” “Our future as a country rests with ALL children—these children in Danbury can be among our young leaders,” Barbara said. “Given the opportunity, all children are capable of great things.”
The Ripps, who also provided funding for preschool programs at the Father English Community Center in Patterson, N.J., are products of Catholic education. Peter, who has a degree in economics from Iona College, where he is a trustee, received an MBA from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Barbara has worked with single mothers at Malta House in Norwalk and was a board member for seven years. She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and elementary education from Marymount Manhattan College and her master’s in education for special needs children from Kean University.
“I was always interested in children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said. Her first job was in 1968 at St. Bridget Catholic School on 7th Street in Manhattan. “In those days, the classes had 40 children, but the school was a lifesaver for those children. It was run by the Sisters of Charity, who were wonderful teachers. The parents really cared about getting their children to school.”
When her sons, Steve and Christopher, were young, the family moved to New Jersey, where she later started teaching special needs children and began working at the Association for Children in New Jersey, an advocacy program.
Their son Christopher, who died at 26 after an illness, shared Barbara’s concern for the underserved. A graduate of Colby College in Maine with a degree in English, he became a social worker, serving people on the streets in San Francisco.
“Christopher always had a smile on his face,” Barbara said. “Everybody wanted to be his friend when he was in school, and for a year after he died, we got letters from people telling us about the things he had done. He was just a very loving and kind person, very bright, athletic and charismatic. He always gave money to people if they needed it, and he never had a bad word to say about anybody. He enjoyed life, and lived a lot of it in his 26 years.”
Their younger son Steve graduated from Dartmouth, where he studied religion and government. He later went to Johns Hopkins for a master’s in international studies and to the MIT Sloan School of Management for an MBA. He currently works in finance. He and his wife, Ana, have three children.
“We believe this is going to be a wonderful program. We are really excited and feel very privileged to be able to do this,” Barbara said. “We are grateful to Bishop Frank and all the wonderful people who are doing God’s work.”
Foundations in Education is a non-profit initiative created to assist the Diocese of Bridgeport’s ongoing mission to support Catholic education. Its primary purpose is to raise money to support Catholic education through student scholarships, innovation and leadership grants for the professional development of teachers and other education-based initiatives.
(For more information, contact Executive Director Holly Doherty-Lemoine: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit foundationsineducation.org.)
By JOE PISANI