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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006

The Gathering Place turns 25

Program gives adults a safe and stimulating environment during the day: ‘It was exactly the place that was needed,’ first executive director recalls

BRATTLEBORO—It started in February 1989 with two staff members who served six families, three days a week, in the recreation room at Hilltop House in Brattleboro.

Twenty-five years later, The Gathering Place (TGP) has grown into one of the leading Adult Day Centers in Vermont, serving seniors and adults with disabilities in southeast Vermont and southwest New Hampshire by giving them a safe and stimulating environment in which to spend the day.

On Feb. 26, The Gathering Place celebrated its 25th anniversary with an open house and an exhibition of art produced by the participants in the Terrace Street facility’s daily art program.

Beth Spicer, TGP’s first executive director, recalled the early days:

“There were only handful of programs like this around Vermont,” she said. “We worked with the Council on Aging for Southeastern Vermont at first, but we then became our own organization in 1993 and incorporated as a nonprofit.”

Spicer said that TGP grew quickly. After its first year, it was serving 26 families and had an average daily census of 6.5 people. By the time it became a standalone organization in 1993, it was serving 45 families and averaged 10.2 daily participants.

TGP eventually outgrew Hilltop House and moved to the Brattleboro West Plaza in 2000. Spicer said that while the program had more space, “the site really wasn’t right for us. We made the most of it, but our goal was to have our own place.”

That goal was met in October 2001, when TGP bought its current home, at 30 Terrace St., from the Brattleboro Eagles.

Funding to buy the 19th century Victorian structure came from the state and a low-interest mortgage from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program. The Thompson Trust and a USDA grant — plus a lot of in-kind donations and volunteer help — got TGP’s home ready for occupancy in March 2002.

Spicer never got a chance to fully enjoy the new Terrace Street facility. She said she left at about the time it was bought to take a job with the state as a public guardian.

“It was exactly the place that we needed,” Spicer said. “And we never would have grown the way that we did without all the volunteers we’ve had.”

Carolyn Stoughton has been the coordinator of those volunteers since 1991. She directs a pool of some three dozen who help with everything from arts classes to music to reading groups to simple companionship.

“They love visiting, and our participants love seeing them visit,” Stoughton said. “You can see it on everyone’s faces.”

Mary Fredette is TGP’s current executive director. She said TGP served 89 people during the 2013 fiscal year, with about 30 to 35 people in attendance daily,

“You see a big difference in the participants within just a few weeks,” Fredette said. “It helps ease the isolation that so many old people feel at times. Helping people reconnect socially is one of the most important things we do.”

The other important thing TGP provides is help for the caregivers — the ones who must look after an elderly family members who may have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease or a physical or cognitive disability.

Offering respite care helps ease the caregiver’s burdens, Fredette said. As demand for home health care grows, TGP has begun a home care program that delivers some of their services directly.

“We’re starting to see a real spread in ages,” said Fredette. “The youngest person here is 29 and the oldest are in their 90s. That presents a lot of challenges for the staff, but we remain a warm and caring place.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #244 (Wednesday, March 5, 2014). This story appeared on page A2.

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