The Children’s Center has been a resource to local families since its humble beginnings in 1966. The purpose, focus, and even name of the Center has evolved over those forty-plus years and attempts to maintain an ongoing response to local needs.
The Children’s Center was incorporated in 1967 as Mid-State United Cerebral Palsy, Inc.. The program operated from a private home in until it was housed at the Penney Memorial Baptist Church in Augusta later that year. The program was dependent on volunteers to provide services. The volunteers were trained on the job by a consultant provided through the State of Maine. The children served were primarily school-aged, with one preschool class for three to five year olds.
After a temporary move to Governor Hill Mansion on State Street, Kennebec County officials designed and built a facility at our current location on Alden Avenue, using state and federal funds designated to serve individuals with multiple disabilities. The doors to the new building opened on December 2, 1978.
During this time, the organization also offered a pre-vocational program, provided support, and assisted adults with skill development for the activities of daily living. The Pleasant Street House was a short-term independent living program that served adults from 1978 until 1989.
In 1981, programs providing therapeutic and educational services to children from birth to three years of age were introduced at the organization. In 1990, in response to decreasing numbers of school-aged children due to successful efforts to mainstream children with special needs into public school programs, the organization started exclusively serving children from birth to age five. In that year, the organization also changed its name to “Children’s Center: Early Intervention and Family Support” to more accurately reflect its changing mission and programs.
In 1989, and until 2012, the Children’s Center added the Respite program as a support service to the parents and caregivers of children with special needs. The program grew quickly and a full time coordinator was hired to manage the program in 1991. In collaboration with Woodfords Family Services and United Cerebral Palsy of Northeastern Maine, the Children’s Center developed state-wide respite provider training and recruitment strategies that have enhanced the program’s capacity to meet families’ needs. The Therapeutic Recreation program began in 1990, administering state funding for children to participate in activities that help them develop long-lasting skills. This program ended in 2012.
In 1994, the Children’s Center formed a collaborative with the Southern Kennebec Child Development Corporation (SKCDC) to create the First Friends program. This program joined children in the Head Start program with children with special needs. This collaborative program contributed to the development of children by offering the benefits of an inclusive environment. This program ended in 2006. Today, the Children’s Center strives to provide all of the children served with an inclusive experience, and offers developmental and occupational therapy to children at Head Start programs in the community.
In 2000, the Targeted Case Management program was created to assist parents as they work through the range of emotions and maze of services they experience as parents of a child with special needs. In 2001, the Children’s Center opened an office for the Targeted Case Management program in the Federated Church in the town of Skowhegan, allowing the program to serve both Kennebec and Somerset Counties. In 2005, a grant from the United Way of Mid-Maine provided the Children’s Center with the opportunity to begin offering educational workshops for parents and caregivers of children with special needs in Kennebec and Somerset Counties. The Parent Education program expanded with a grant from the Maine Children’s Trust in 2007 to include more intensive training for parents of children with autism and/or severely challenging behaviors through collaboration with MaineGeneral Health.
Offering additional and expanded services resulted in a space crunch. In 1996, a mobile unit was added to the location for additional office space as an interim measure while the organization explored the possibility of expansion. When the lease expired for the mobile unit in 2000, the Respite and Finance programs moved to an office in Manchester and then in 2001, those administrative and home visitor staff members moved to an office at 99 Western Avenue in Augusta. During this time, the Center conducted a feasibility study to determine its ability to raise funds to renovate and expand the building.
With a positive finding from the feasibility study, in 2001 Kaye and David Flanagan provided leadership and worked with a dedicated group of community members to conduct a capital campaign to raise 1.5 million dollars. As the result of their hard work and the generous support of the community, in May of 2003 the Children’s Center officially cut the ribbon on the newly renovated and expanded building.
In 2007, work on a fully accessible playground was completed. Features of this playground include: a canopy for shade, a lobster boat for imaginative play and CedarWorks play structures. A donor wall to honor contributors was installed on the side of the building overlooking the playground. A playground expansion project began in 2008 to include an “Enchanted Forest” and more Maine-themed structures, with a completion date of June, 2009.
As a result of the Center’s shift to provide an inclusive experience for children, the Department of Education’s Child Development Services (CDS) changed the Center’s classification from a special purpose program to an inclusive program in 2003. This shift in focus to better serve children with identified needs by including all children was expanded through the decision to offer child care in the fall of 2008. A program for infants and toddlers was added in 2009.
With an expansion project completed in 2010, adding over 400 square feet of program space, the Center increased its licensed capacity from 60 to 75 children. The service array has expanded to include Rehabilitative Community Support Services to children in their homes and in the Center. In 2010, the Center was awarded a community development block grant enabling expansion in Somerset County, where we were co-located with Miss Kelly’s Learning Loft.
In 2011, the Children’s Center expanded services in Skowhegan, now offering center-based therapies, family support services, targeted case management, and Rehabilitative Community Support Services in both Kennebec and Somerset Counties. The agency hired a full-time Human Resources Manager to accommodate the needs of our growing staff and a Family Services Coordinator was hired to oversee parent education programs and to support our growing family services staff.
The organization was awarded the Dirigo Award for Nonprofit Excellence by Maine Association of Nonprofits in 2011 followed by the 2012 Giraffe Award for “Sticking our Neck Out for Kids,” presented by the Maine Children’s Alliance.
In 2013, the Children’s Center welcomed a new Executive Director, Jeffrey Johnson, LCSW, MBA. That same year, the organization began offering new and expanded programs for mental health services and community based rehabilitative support services. Realizing an even greater need for these types of services in the rural communities of Somerset County, the agency began providing center-based day treatment and rehabilitative community support services through a new Autism Program and Behavioral Support Program established at a new location in Skowhegan.
In 2015, the organization continues to grow and develop through the purchase of property adjacent to the current building in Augusta to increase capacity for services at the Children’s Center. The agency also collaborated with Southern Kennebec Child Development Corporation (SKCDC) in order to begin providing day treatment services at a classroom in the Plummer Street Head Start Program in Gardiner. The agency expanded upon fundraising opportunities, hosting a successful First Annual Dinner & Auction Event, as well as created a new Quality Improvement Department to ensure all programs follow regulatory policies, procedures, and guidelines.
The agency began the year with the opening of a new site in Farmington in 2017 offering Day Treatment and Targeted Case Management Services to Franklin County. The organization also expanded services by increasing the age range for case management to birth to age twenty-one. The Center began the spring with a major renovation project to create a completely inclusive playground and will end the summer by introducing a portable classroom to expand services in Augusta.
No longer operated by volunteers, today the Center’s highly skilled staff of over 60 professionals provides an array of services including: family services, an inclusive early education, pediatric therapies, and specialized services for children diagnosed with autism or with behavioral health concerns. Most of the Center’s staff has earned college credits or degrees and several have advanced degrees.
The Children’s Center is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. Well known for high quality, comprehensive services, the Center is a popular site for college student observations, practicums and internships. Children’s Center staff members also serve as consultants to area preschools and public schools, and offer community workshops on various topics related to children with special needs. The Children’s Center continues to be a valuable resource across central Maine with its highly skilled staff and commitment to families. We look forward to continuing our work within the community to provide quality programming and services to children and their families.