End of era for Groton Youth Program director

Monica Dykeman stands next to the “Little Blue Pantry” she started to help provide food and personal care items for the Groton community.
Monica Dykeman stands next to the “Little Blue Pantry” she started to help provide food and personal care items for the Groton community.
Photo by Linda Competillo

The “Little Blue Pantry” under the C.R. Pavilion on Main Street is the latest initiative that Groton Youth Program Director Monica Dykeman spearheaded for the benefit of the community.

Dykeman became aware of the pantries through Mutual Aid Tompkins, which partnered with B&B Flooring in Dryden to construct them. She did the “legwork” to obtain approval from the village of Groton to have one here, and with help from Groton Harvest and the Cornell Cooperative Extension, she made it happen.

Dykeman lined up anonymous donors to begin stocking the pantry this past spring. It is a place where anyone who has a need for nonperishable food items or personal care products may go and help themselves, and those who wish to contribute items for others may leave them there.

This was Dykeman’s last major endeavor as the GYP director. After 20 years in her position, she headed down a new career path as of Monday, June 1, as the school foods grant coordinator at Tompkins Cortland Community College.

Reflecting on all she has seen and done over the years, Dykeman is understandably experiencing some bittersweet feelings, but she is also very excited about the ways she will be able to continue to serve school children.

In her new role, Dykeman will be helping to improve nutrition and school food as she works with the school food service directors in all of Tompkins County, Groton included, to support the changes they might wish to make in their schools based upon the needs they are finding.

Dykeman was born and raised in Albany. Growing up and attending high school at The Academy of the Holy Names, she always had a heart for serving people and involved herself in several community service clubs. After graduation, she headed to LeMoyne College in Syracuse to major in biology with the idea of becoming a physician assistant.

In her junior year, Dykeman’s passion to work with kids was ignited in an educational psychology class she had taken, so she also took on an elementary education major and graduated with her bachelor of arts in both majors.

After LeMoyne, Dykeman moved to Cortland, where she worked as a childcare director for the YWCA. It was there, in Cortland, that her sister, Christie, introduced her to Groton alumnus, Dave Dykeman, who eventually became her husband.

In the mid-1990s, Monica and Dave moved to North Carolina, where both taught in Halifax County schools. Monica thoroughly enjoyed teaching for two years, but both Dave and she felt they were ready to move closer to home and start a family.

The Dykemans moved to Groton in September 1999. Monica taught here as a substitute teacher until she began her job that December as the GYP director.
Initially, Monica’s job was part time, but it became full time by the next year.

She coordinated afterschool activities such as arts and crafts and agriculturally based projects and drop-in activities for kids at the Groton Memorial Park during summer afternoons.

“Basically, whatever kids wanted to do, I came up with things,” Monica said. “I especially wanted kids who weren’t involved in sports or band to have something to do and somewhere to go to have a sense of belonging.”

In 2004, Monica founded the summer day camp in the park.

“The summer before, it had started raining one day, and the kids all rushed into the park pavilion because they had nowhere else to go,” she said.

That gave her the idea to turn the afternoons in the park to a more comprehensive all-day opportunity for them.

There were “hoops” to jump through, and Monica enthusiastically jumped. Approval from the Groton Youth Commission and licensing through the Tompkins County Health Department were obtained, and 40 kids attended camp for five weeks that summer.

Summer camp has flourished and grown since then. Today, there are 50 kids attending for six weeks every summer. Monica is particularly pleased that she has been able to hold the cost of the camp to $100 per week, which includes meals and field trips.

“I am really proud that a staff of six has grown to 15 through the years,” Monica said. “Almost all of them have been with me at least five years, some since the very beginning, and about 75% of them were originally campers themselves.”

In 2018, Monica partnered with the Food Bank of the Southern Tier to bring a free children’s farmers’ market to Groton Memorial Park, which has given almost 20,000 pounds of produce to children thus far.

Monica has also supervised youth employment programs for the town and village of Groton and coordinated positive afterschool youth development activities.

Along with all of this, Monica has served on the Groton Board of Education for the past nine years, has been a member of the Groton Recreation Committee for six, a Groton Public Library trustee for three and was recognized in 2017 as part of the Tompkins County Youth Services Department’s “40 Caring Adults” campaign.

When asked what prompted her to apply for her new role, Monica spoke about her involvement with Groton Harvest, a grant through the Park Foundation that focuses on healthy eating both in and outside of school for the entire Groton community.

“I have really enjoyed the work with Groton Harvest,” Monica said. “I have seen the changes around the culture of food in Groton in just two short years, and I see this job as an expansion on that work.”

Monica also said the new role excites her “because of all the opportunities to improve the lives of children in our county.”

Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, lmc10@cornell.edu or 607-227-4922.

In brief:

Conger receives honors

Congratulations to Betty Conger! In honor of Older Americans Month in May, she was recognized by the New York State Office for the Aging as “an amazing older volunteer” for having “dedicated a lifetime to her community.”

Her nomination was submitted by the Tompkins County Office for the Aging, and she was one of two county residents to receive this recognition.
Conger has also been selected to be inducted into the Groton High School Distinguished Graduate Hall of Fame for 2020.

This prestigious award was created by the Groton chapter of the National Honor Society 10 years ago to pay tribute to the accomplishments of one or two graduates each year.

The recipients are invited to attend the annual banquet to receive their award, serve as the keynote speaker(s) and are commemorated in the halls of the school with a permanent plaque outlining their achievements.

Due to COVID-19, the banquet will not take place this year, so Conger will receive her award at the 2021 event and will have an entire year to plan her speech.

Outstanding CTE students

The following Groton students were recognized as outstanding students of the month for April at the Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga BOCES Career and Technical Education Center. Alexis Hatfield, Cosmetology, and Nick Radley, Sports Conditioning and Exercise Science.

The outstanding students are chosen based on qualities such as character, leadership, citizenship, work ethic and attendance. They must also be compassionate, honest, trustworthy, responsible and a positive role model.

Despite the adjustment to remote learning, these exceptional career and tech students in our school have “risen to the occasion” and done exceptional work.


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