Winston Prouty Center marks 50 years with party for families

BRATTLEBORO — The Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a party on Saturday, Aug. 3, from 4 to 7 p.m., at the Winston Prouty Campus. The event is free and open to the community.

A highlight of the event will be hot air balloon 'walkabouts' in which party-goers can walk inside a partially inflated hot air balloon. Live music will be provided by local band Hipfunk Associates.

The Early Learning Express bookmobile will offer storytimes and puppet performances. Other activities include a bouncy-house, lawn-games, face-painting, and hayrides around campus.

Grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and veggie dogs will be served thanks to a generous donation from Cota & Cota Oil, along with chips and a selection of side salads. Hazel will be offering up beer on tap and Vermont Gelato will be selling their locally-made gelato.

For those who like to bake and decorate, there will be a cupcake contest. Cupcakes will be judged in the following categories: Taste, Presentation, Most Unusual, and Best in Show. Prizes include gift certificates to Brattleboro Food Co-op, Beadniks, Sam's Outdoor Outfitters, and Hannaford.

To enter, bring one dozen decorated cupcakes to the party by 5 p.m. (winners announced at 6 p.m.) Entry forms may be printed online or filled out at the event. There is no cost for entering. After judging, cupcakes will be served for dessert, along with a birthday cake.

A Prouty History tent will be open to help visitors learn about how the organization has evolved since 1969. Tour guides will provide tours for visitors to see the Early Learning Center and Community-Based Services spaces. The Austine Museum will be open during the party. The community is encouraged to visit to learn about the rich history of the campus.

This event is free, though donations are appreciated. Contributions can be made in advance online or at a donation box at the party. There will also be some items available for purchase, including T-shirts, blankets, tote bags, and water bottles, with all proceeds supporting the services provided to local children and families throughout Windham County.

In 1968, U.S. Sen. Winston L. Prouty, R-Vt., co-sponsored the Handicapped Children's Early Education Assistance Act, which established model programs to educate handicapped children across the U.S., including in Vermont.

In 1969, the agency started as First Chance, one of the first programs in the country exclusively for preschool children with special needs.

In 1972, The Winston L. Prouty Center for Child Development was incorporated and consolidated activities at 2 Oak St. A focus on research and developing reliable child development assessments was maintained while outreach and services to families at home as well as at the Center continued.

In 1983, the WPC launched the Children's County Inn, a respite care program for children with special needs that provided overnight and weekend support for families.

In 1986, the Early Learning Center was opened, which was committed to integrating children with special needs with those who were typically developing. The popular Tortoise and Hare Walk-a-thon was a successful and popular fundraiser for many years.

With the passage of Act 230 and a shift of special education funding to school districts, WPC made a series of programming changes, including eliminating respite care, developing an intensive-needs classroom, and offering workshops and professional training to teachers.

The organization was designated the regional host agency for special education services for children from birth to age 3. In 1996, the Early Learning Center gained National Association for the Education of Young Children accreditation.

In 2006, WPC moved to a new location across from Memorial Park. In 2008, the organization became the fiscal agent for Children Integrated Services, Vermont's streamlined system of services for families with children, prenatal to age 6. CIS partnered with Early Education Services, Vermont Department of Health, Early Education Services, and Windham Child Care Association. Today, CIS provides an array of social and education services.

In 2013, WPC was awarded the Family Supportive Housing grant under the state Office of Economic Opportunity. FSH provides assistance to families who are homeless with young children up to age 6, to find and maintain stable housing.

WPC purchased and moved to the former campus of the Austine School for the Deaf in 2016.

In 2017, the name was changed to the Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development to reflect the wider scope of services available to families.

Later that year, through the merger with Windham Child Care Association, additional services for families and early learning providers were added, including Child Care Referral, Child Care Financial Assistance, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Early Learning Express Bookmobile.

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