If a child cannot learn the way I teach, then I must teach the way he learns.
--Anna Gillingham, educator and psychologist

Monday, April 8, 2013

Child Health Association Celebrates 90 Wonderful Years

This weekend, The Child Health Association of Sewickley celebrated its 90th anniversary with an event called "Gloves Off, Hands On, Pearls Optional: An Evening of Celebration and Nostalgia".  Laughlin's own Executive Director, Doug Florey, was one of the speakers of the night, touching on the complimentary history that both organizations share. Continue reading and you'll find Doug's speech.  We are incredibly thankful for the dedicated work that the generations of Child Health women have provided to Sewickley.  Warm congratulations and here's to 90 more years!

"Good evening, and thank you to Elisa and the other Child Health members for inviting me to participate tonight.  When Beth Rom contacted me about the possibility, I was really excited, because I think the story of the long-time connection between the Child Health Association of Sewickley and the Mary and Alexander Laughlin Children’s Center is so interesting, despite the fact that it isn’t too well known.
            Although we’re here to celebrate Child Health’s 90th anniversary, MY story actually stretches back even further—to 1897, when Mary Laughlin convinced her husband to build a 25-bedroom home off Camp Meeting Road.  Mary and her husband, Alexander, lived in a large house on what is now Sewickley Academy’s campus.  Alexander’s grandfather founded Ambridge Tube Company, a steel manufacturer, earlier in the 1800’s, and Mary wanted the new mansion on Camp Meeting NOT for HER family, but to house strangers--young mothers and infants from Pittsburgh.

            At the turn of the century, the industrial revolution was going full bore, and as a result, the pollution was horrendous.  Mary recognized the need for fresh air that recuperating mothers and newborns were experiencing, and approached Alexander with her idea of building the 25-bedroom mansion for them.  In MY version of the story, Alexander is like most husbands when presented with the specter of spending large sums of money, and required some persuasion on Mary’s part.  But who knows—perhaps Mr. Laughlin innately understood the need for these young families to escape the suffocating smog of the city and readily agreed to build the Fresh Air Home.  Either way, by 1901, the home was up and running, welcoming dozens of young families each year.

            For over 50 years, the Sewickley Fresh Air Home provided summertime--and eventually year-round--care for as many as thirty to forty children and mothers at a time.  Mrs. Laughlin was the home’s founder, president of its board, and a driving force in the success of its programs. Over the years, the mission of the Home responded to changes in need, eventually becoming a place for children with polio and TB, as well as an orphanage.   However, by the time she died in 1953, leaving a sizeable bequest to the Home, society had finally caught up with her vision, and there were other social welfare organizations that were better equipped to handle the needs of children who were sick or without families.  So, the trustees and surviving board members made the decision to close the Home, and sought another organization providing service to children to be recipient of the Mrs. Laughlin’s legacy.

            In 1950, a young woman named Virginia Nix applied to Child Health for a $600 grant to bring a nationally-known family and child therapist from New York City to Sewickley, to provide therapy and do research on the emotional needs of the area’s children.  Using the results of that research as her touchstone, Mrs. Nix, who was also a Child Health Association member, founded the Sewickley Child Counseling Center to provide psychological services for individual children and their families, and to conduct community awareness activities.   She led that organization as president of the board, and her tireless work helping children, especially those who struggled with learning, eventually captured the attention of Dr. Benjamin Spock, who was working at the University of Pittsburgh at that time. 

            While there was significant community need for the agency’s services, it lacked a long-term funding source. In 1956, with encouragement from Dr. Spock  and several active patrons and board members from Child Health and the Child Counseling Center, the now-defunct Fresh Air Home and Child Counseling merged.  The Fresh Air Home’s original charter was amended to read “The Mary and Alexander Laughlin Children’s Center” and we began providing services during that year, even before construction of our Frederick Avenue facility was completed.  The Center’s earliest programs were described as “academic and emotional support for children who encounter problems in learning processes”, a description which still applies to many of our programs today.

            An important part of Laughlin’s early history and tradition is that original bequest from Mrs. Laughlin and the part it has played in the Center’s development.  With the support of her financial legacy, the Center was able to charge nominal fees for services, and to provide a financial aid program, enabling families to receive needed services without regard to their ability to pay.  Through the years, with the support of generous donors, such as Child Health, Laughlin Children’s Center has been able to continue to provide high-quality, low-cost programs, along with generous aid to those families in need. In fact, in 2009, we were fortunate to partner with Child Health on its annual ball, an event that raised $10,000 for Laughlin’s financial aid program.  And just last year, Laughlin was again blessed with a gift from Child Health that enabled us to build our new playground, which is used not only by our client families, but by children and families from throughout the neighborhood.  And, although they operate independently, Laughlin has always been proud to support Child Health’s vision screening program by offering complimentary speech & hearing screenings to many of the same young children.

            So, as you can see, there is a rich and rewarding partnership between Laughlin and Child Health, one that stretches all the way back to the founding of both organizations.  That history, coupled with the dedication of today’s  Child Health members, is something that should be celebrated, and I’m honored to be part of tonight’s festivities recognizing 90 years of community involvement by generations of the smart, tenacious, generous, and compassionate women who make up The Child Health Association of Sewickley."

- Douglas Florey, Executive Director of Laughlin Children's Center
Saturday, April 6, 2013

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