MIDDLEBURY — The Addison County Parent-Child Center (PCC) was born in 1980 in the basement of the Congregational Church of Middlebury with an uncertain future, but a noble mission: to help pregnant teens learn how to care for their children and make better decisions before conceiving again.
Thirty years later, the center has grown into its own building at 126 Monroe St. with a staff of 40 full- and part-time workers offering more than two dozen programs and services.
The center’s efforts have helped give Addison County the lowest teen pregnancy rate in the state. The center’s clients, which now range from infants to young adults, are also among the state’s healthiest and law-abiding, according to state statistics.
“It is truly a great place,” said PCC Co-director Sue Harding, who with former co-director Cheryl Mitchell helped bring the organization into being in 1980.
The center celebrated the anniversary last Friday with a reception at the Town Hall Theater and a dance featuring the band Deep Freyed.
It’s somewhat of a bittersweet 30th birthday for the PCC, as it will also signal Harding’s retirement. She will remain as co-director for a few more months, and then transition into a part-time grant-writing role before taking flight later this year to Ohio. There, Harding and husband Bill DiLillo will be closer to their two adult children and a new grandchild.
Longtime PCC employee Sue Bloomer will succeed Harding to team up with Co-director Donna Bailey.
Harding is also co-authoring a book with some of her PCC colleagues about childhood behavior and the other related subjects with which she has become familiar during the past three decades.
Meanwhile, the center’s work — including a major, $2 million fund-raising campaign — will go on. The organization is about a fourth of the way to its goal, according to Harding.
“It is great that I will be leaving things so stable here,” Harding said.
That stability was built on the strong foundation that Harding, Mitchell, Bailey and their colleagues, as well as the past and present PCC board directors, have built over the years.
Mitchell traced the PCC’s early movements — from the basement of the Congregational church, to a similar spot in the Middlebury Union Methodist Church, and then to 11 Seminary St. When the organization outgrew that location during the late 1980s, it moved into the new spacious headquarters on Monroe Street.
Mitchell and Harding feel blessed that the PCC was singled out, early on in its existence, for substantial federal funding to address growing national awareness of teen pregnancy.
“There was a demographic shift that happened in the late 1970s,” Harding said. “When I first started working with pregnant teens, almost all of them placed (their babies) up for adoption, either with a family member or a straight-out adoption. It was very rare to find a teen parenting.”
But that changed during the early 1980s, when teens increasingly started raising their own children, but couldn’t do it on their own.
The federal Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs selected the PCC as one of four parent-child centers nationwide for special funding to develop innovative educational and counseling offerings for teen parents-to-be.
“It was a really cool way to start,” Harding recalled. “The federal government said, ‘Use your common sense; try stuff. We are going to learn as much from the things you do that don’t work as from the things you do that do work.’”
Fortunately, most of the “stuff” that the PCC tried did work, to the point where its innovative programs have been replicated in centers nationwide.
The PCC now offers, among other things, home visits to pregnant or parenting teens, at-risk teens, and families where there is risk of abuse or neglect; playgroups; counseling; parent training; playgroups; a welfare-to-work program; nutrition education; labor support for pregnant teens; transitional housing for young parents; transportation; and car seat education and distribution.
The success of these programs has helped Addison County log some of the following statistics, according to information provided by the PCC:
• The maternal death rate among county teens is zero.
• More than 60 percent of county adolescent mothers are involved in an educational program (compared to about 15 percent nationally).
• Ninety percent of the teen parents involved report that they are now better educated in child development and feel more confident as parents.
• More than 70 percent of the adolescent fathers are involved in some aspect of the PCC.
The PCC also proved to be a springboard for Mitchell, who left the PCC in 1993 to work for then-Gov. Howard Dean as deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services. It was in part her association with the successful PCC that led to her selection to that post, in which she served for 10 years. Mitchell now is a researcher at the University of Vermont and consults for various South Korean organizations on child care issues.
Mitchell enjoyed her time at the PCC and credited Harding with helping to steer the successful organization.
“She embraced (adolescent clients), and thought if she helped them, they wouldn’t have a second child until they were ready,” Mitchell said, adding that Harding is “totally energetic.”
While Harding’s loss will be felt, Mitchell is confident the PCC will continue to thrive for at least another 30 years.
“The staff there is strong, bright and compassionate,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.
• 1979. There are 127 adolescent pregnancies in Addison County. A group of community members writes grants for a “parent-child center” to support these young parents, and at the same time to try to prevent further teen pregnancies.
• 1980. With one of only four grants awarded nationally by the Federal Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs, and the only one given to a rural area, the PCC opens its doors. In a leased building in Middlebury, with a budget of $260,000 and a staff of 15 employees, the PCC serves 70 families that first year.
• 1983. The first in-house master’s program starts, through association with UVM, enabling PCC staff and others to work on graduate degrees close to home, and based on work they’re doing every day.
• 1989. The center lands a Diapers, Autos, Daughters & Sons (DADS) grant. DADS is a unique program whose dual goals are to encourage a more active involvement of fathers in their children’s lives, and to provide them with vocational training more suited to their needs and learning styles.
• 1989. The PCC launches a capital campaign to build its headquarters on Monroe Street. More than $400,000 is raised from the community, in addition to countless dollars of in-kind services by professionals of all stripes.
• 1993. Co-founder Cheryl Mitchell announces her decision to leave the PCC; long-time staffer Howdy Russell steps in as co-director.
• 1995. The PCC’s child care program receives national accreditation.
• 1999. Russell leaves as co-director. Sue Harding goes solo for a year, until 2000, when Donna Bailey joins her as co-director.
• 2001. The PCC works in collaboration with the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center’s Human Services Career program to open the Playlab at the Hannaford site. Parent-Child Center staff and high school students training for careers in early childhood education care for the PCC’s oldest toddlers.
• 2001. The center accepts a donation by Tom and Ginny Moser of a downtown Middlebury two-family building, and creates a program to train participants to be good tenants and community members. In that same year, the PCC wins a five-year, multi-million-dollar federal grant from the same Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs that helps replicate the “Learning Together” program — the intensive, in-house job training, parenting and education program — to the other 14 parent-child centers in Vermont. By this time, the PCC has a staff of 32, serving more than 2,000 families.
• 2005. An 11-unit boarding house on Middlebury’s Elm Street comes on the market. The PCC acquires and renovates the building for expansion of its “first-time renters program” — teaching young people the skills necessary to be successful as tenants and to live with others in a communal setting.
• 2010. The PCC has 38 full-and part-time staff, many with more than 20 years’ tenure. The center bids farewell to Sue Harding and is in the midst of a campaign to raise an endowment fund to help sustain the organization into the future.
— Courtesy of PCC board member Emily Joselson