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Children’s Beach House: More than Just Fun at the Beach


A girl lives in a trailer on land her family owns, but they can’t afford a house. She has some communication delays, which are holding her back at school, and teachers say she is failing and way below her grade level in reading. But these are only secondary issues. The biggest problem this young girl faces is having a warm home. With the help of the Children’s Beach House, Habitat For Humanity built a new house for her family. After much discussion, the board of the Children’s Beach House purchased a Kindle for her so that she could hear what she was reading, and experts worked with her. The Children’s Beach House also purchased all of her textbooks. Now, she is reading not only at her grade level but well above it.

Her story was told by Leslie Sheridan-Lee, one of the case managers at the Children’s Beach House, to illustrate just how individualized their approach is with every child in their program.

Founded by Lydia Chichester du Pont in the 1930s, the Children’s Beach House is committed to helping children 7 through 18 with speech, language, and other communications difficulties, in whatever way possible. Preference is given to children receiving free or reduced lunch in Delaware.

Lydia Chichester du Pont focused on the children who needed the most help, and for whom other services were not adequate. The Children’s Beach House holds regular focus groups with its board members to reassess which demographic of the special-needs spectrum needs the most attention.

Two programs are available for children accepted into the Children’s Beach House, which has facilities in Wilmington and Lewes. The first is the Positive Youth Development Program and the second is the Delaware Center for Youth Development.

The Positive Youth Development Program is “about 80 percent case management and 20 percent summer camp,” according to the Children’s Beach House executive director Richard Garrett.  “Many people think that all we do is summer camp, but it’s so much more than that.” Some 103 children are accepted each year, but more than 500 people (including and not limited to parents and siblings) are helped annually.

Each child accepted into the program is given their own case manager, who meets with the child’s caregiver and accesses what they need to be successful, not only in school, but in life. From there, the assigned case manager crafts a tailored plan.

The Delaware Center for Youth Development provides training on how to develop relationships with other children. Sheridan-Lee says that teaching the children in this program how to develop these relationships is “one of the most important parts of our work.” One of the core missions of the Children’s Beach House is not only to prepare children to do well in school and learn to deal with their disabilities, but also become independent, well-adjusted children, who in turn become independent, well adjusted adults.

Richard Garnett says that during his 10 years as executive director at the Children’s Beach House, the most rewarding part is “seeing the kids who started in the program graduate from high school, and knowing we contributed to their success is an incredible feeling.”

Sheridan-Lee, who has spent a little over a year as a case manager at the Children’s Beach House, expressed how much she loves the individual approach. “[My job] provides me the opportunity to support these families in any and every way.”

To help offset some of its costs, the Children’s Beach House has many fundraising events throughout the year. For certain events, the Children’s Beach House uses its relationship as a du Pont legacy in partnership with four du Pont estates, including Longwood Gardens and Hagely Museum and Library.

An art competition takes place from October 20-25. This week-long event includes a gala, where artwork is exhibited and sold. Although the event is only 3 years old, Garnett says this event is “getting noticed in the Brandywine Valley.” The competition features artists from all over the country, painting scenes from the Brandywine Valley and its gardens.

Another major event is the Annual Beach Barbeque in August. The barbeque, which this year will be the 10th, takes place right on the beach at the Children’s Beach House’s Lewes location. It draws many well-known sponsors, such as M&T Bank, Lewes Auto Mall, Lygo Realty, and Ellison Carey (with Merrill Lynch), just to name a few. In December, the Children’s Beach House hosts a holiday art show and parade to ring in the holiday season.

These fundraising events raise about 20 percent of the total $1.3 million budget for the Children’s Beach House. Another 20 percent is acquired from their endowment, 45 percent to 50 percent comes from the Lydia Chichester du Pont’s private foundation, and 10 percent comes from individual donations.

The Children’s Beach House still needs your help to make its mission of serving children with special needs a possibility. To donate, volunteer, or learn how to sponsor an event, visit cbhinc.org, or call 302.655.4288 (Wilmington) or 302.645.9184 (Lewes).