The Milton Family Community Center, serving Milton and northern Chittenden County, was founded in 1985 to improve the availability of services to an area lacking public transportation and social service agencies. A concentration of low-income families residing in substandard housing caused a Head Start Outreach Worker, Lisa Horel, to collaborate with others doing outreach in the Milton area to see if appropriate services could be obtained to assist these at-risk families. Together they developed the concept of a community center which would emphasize and encourage positive relationships between young children and parents through education and family support; create easier access to services for families by making them available at a central location within Milton; and encourage outreach and field work from Burlington-based agencies by offering them a place to work and coordinate activities at a satellite location within Milton to serve area residents. Start-up funding was provided by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to the Champlain Valley Head Start program. Soon after, the Center spun off from Head Start and became an independent parent/child center governed by a Board of Directors consisting of community leaders, parents and collaborating agency representatives, with Lisa Horel appointed as the Executive Director.
In the Fall of 1987, the Center moved into its own building on Main Street in Milton. This historic building, known as Austin’s Hall, was over 120 years old and had been the hub of Milton’s social and cultural life throughout much of its history, first as a hotel with a ballroom, and later as an Odd Fellows Hall, movie theatre, and law office. The building, which seemed spacious at the time MFCC moved in, had a large area for children on the ground level, space for administrative and staff offices, and one floor for use by agencies and other organizations. Initially the Center provided Milton with parent/child playgroups, a preschool knows as TYKES, parent education and support, and home visiting services.
As the Center and its programs began to grow, its leadership changed hands. In the early years, Kate Finlay, one of the Center’s original staff members, served as Executive Director for an eight-year term. During her tenure, the Center expanded its programs to include Healthy Babies and Welcome Baby services, along with the development of a Chittenden County interagency resource group knows as “PATCH.” The Center also became a pilot site for the VT Department of Welfare’s “Reach Up” program, a welfare-to-work program for young mothers. Collaborations with Howard Mental Health, WIC, and Vermont Adult Learning were also initiated through on-site services at the center and still exist to-date.
In 1997, Jane Jackson was hired as the new Executive Director. Under Jane’s direction and grant writing expertise, the center continued to increase both its funding and programming. New Directions Teen Services and M.A.S.K. (Milton After School Kids) after school childcare were two programs added to the center’s repertoire of services. Also at this time the center instituted a support group called Grandparents As Parents for grandparents raising grandchildren or kin. Since 1997, the group has become well known around the state, presenting at conferences and legislative forums, and serves as a model for similar programs outside of Chittenden County. Additionally, in 1999 the center applied for and received status, as well as funding, as a United Way agency in Chittenden County. The MFCC was the first new agency to join the United Way in ten years. With the center’s continued growth it became evident that the space on Main Street was becoming inadequate for meeting the needs of its growing and varied programs, as well as unsafe for staff, children and families due to the age and state of the building itself. Concurrently, the Board of Directors became aware that the old Villemaire Health building in Milton was for sale and immediately toured it to determine if it would be a site appropriate for the center’s needs. The building and grounds proved to be exactly what the center needed at the time so a capital campaign was launched and the center applied for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in order to purchase the building from Fletcher Allen Health Care. After a successful campaign and also being awarded the CDBG grant, the center purchased and moved into its new home at 23 Villemaire Lane in July of 2000.
In August 2000, the center hosted a gala Open House. Governor Howard Dean was on site for the ribbon cutting ceremony and, together with longtime Board President Wanda Viau, made the cut that officially opened the doors of the new building. Once settled, the Center wasted no time in addressing a growing need within the community for increased childcare and preschool. Having laid out the groundwork while at the old location, the Center was able to introduce an Infant/Toddler Childcare Program to its lineup of services early in September, 2000, as well as a new preschool located at and in collaboration with the Milton Elementary School. The new space also provided room enough for a clothing room, food shelf, and playgrounds for the children, preschool and playgroup programs. In 2001 the center was awarded a state Even Start grant to provide intensive family literacy services to adults and their children. Also in 2001 the Center, because of its affiliation as a member PATCH agency, became a site for on-line applications through the Department of PATH (formerly Department of Welfare), allowing families to apply for State services without having to initially travel to the Burlington office. In the fall of 2002, the Center began its third preschool, again in response to an increased need within the community. The full day, full year preschool, housed on site at the Center, offered a play-based enrichment program for up to ten children, ages 3 through 5.
Since its beginning, the Milton Family Community Center has grown fiscally from a start-up budget of $87,000 to an operating budget of over $800,000. The center has been fortunate to receive funding over the years from private foundations such as the Turrell Fund, the Children’s Trust Fund, Rosie’s For All Kids, the John LeClair Foundation and the Henderson Foundation, as well as state and federal funding. Also setting a historical precedence for the Center was Wanda Viau, a local citizen and former Assistant Trust Officer at the Howard Bank, who served as President of the Board of Directors from 1986 until her death in November, 2002. Wanda was instrumental in helping to found the Center and served faithfully for over 17 years to develop MFCC programs that would benefit families and children in Milton. As a result, the Center has grown to be a vital, familiar, well-respected, and pivotal organization within the community.