More than 7,000 homes across New York have been built under the leadership of Michael Dubb. Entering 2018, his real estate firm Beechwood Homes had 3.9 million square feet of luxury developments in progress across Long Island. Yet his most treasured construction is a humble building on the backstretch of Belmont racetrack, one that could fit inside the clubhouse of his recently opened Vanderbilt apartment building in Westbury.
Dubb has adored horseracing since he was a teen, finding the experience of going to the track to be “good therapy because it got my mind off of everything else.” The passion continued into adulthood, and when he found himself in a conversation with friend and world-class jockey Jerry Bailey, he discovered a way to give back to both his community and the sport he loves.
“[Bailey] mentioned that at the racetrack, the children of people who take care of horses had nowhere to go in the morning. The care of horses starts at about 5am and typically ends around 11 or 12 and then there’s more work in the afternoon with the actual races. But the people who take care of horses don’t make a lot of money, so their children were either sleeping in cars while their parents were working or left in apartments being watched by siblings. Jerry commented that the right thing to do would be to have a daycare center.”
There was no one on Long Island more qualified to build it than Dubb, so that’s what he did, donating time, resources and anything else needed to construct a daycare center on the Belmont Park grounds. “We selected a site, and at the time the underlying zone was residential. I had to go to the town of Hempstead and get a change of zone, that took about 18 months. I remember getting it in March, and we had the daycare center built in seven weeks because I wanted it in time for Belmont Stakes in June. I wanted the racing world to see it and embrace it.”
The Anna House, named for the daughter of major donor Eugene Melnyk, and owned and operated by the Belmont Child Care Association, officially opened its doors to students on Jan 1, 2003. Specifically designed around racetrack life, the center opens at 5am and serves approximately 70 children per day starting as young as six weeks old. Students learn everything from reading to gardening. But, as most are Hispanic, the most critical skill they’re taught is English. “What would happen normally if these kids didn’t have this foundation is they would go into public school and they would be a liability. They wouldn’t mix very well, language would be a problem. Now when these kids go into the public-school system they are at the top of the class and they thrive and they’re an asset.”
Because of the positive results, Anna House has expanded its operations to include after-school programs for teenagers and even English language classes for adults. Yet the same problems that gave rise to the Anna House at Belmont are present at racetracks across the country, so the developer in Dubb—who remains involved as board chairman of Belmont Child Care Association—has expansion plans that include building a similar center in Saratoga.
This month, as the world’s eyes fall upon the Belmont finish line, Dubb will enjoy another celebration not far away: Anna House’s annual graduation ceremony.