Children learn at RCPCC

Children learn at the Rutland County Parent Child Center’s Brandon campus.

The Rutland County Parent Child Center is investing in its Brandon facility thanks to a recent grant.

The early childhood education and family services nonprofit has received a $50,000 capital improvement grant from the Hoehl Family Foundation, a Vermont charity that supports families and communities across a broad spectrum of issues and challenges.

A part of the Parent Child Center Network, the organization is one of 15 county-based parent/child centers in the state.

Executive Director Mary Feldman said the grant will allow the organization to make a number of much needed improvements to the 10,000-square-foot Brandon facility, which sits on a nearly 3-acre lot within the former Brandon Training School campus.

“This is a huge infusion of money,” Feldman said, adding that the center also received $10,000 from the Vermont Community Foundation for Brandon.

The project, which she said is slated to begin immediately, will include rehabilitating a preschool classroom, updating electrical systems, renovating bathrooms and replacing a chimney.

The grant will also cover renovations to a kitchen in order to strengthen education and food-security programs offered through RCPCC.

“We home cook all the meals for the children,” said Feldman.

An outdoor amphitheater with seating up to 50 is also in the works, she said.

“I really wanted to reinvigorate that facility,” she said, noting that no capital improvements have been made to the building in some time.

The funding comes on the heels of the organization receiving a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to add a family education center to its Rutland campus on Chaplain Avenue.

As the organization grows, Feldman said she didn’t want the Brandon community to feel left behind, noting the town is a “critical and essential part of Rutland County.”

“Brandon is front and center right now. We really want to invest in that community. And we want people there to feel the support of the Parent Child Center,” she said.

In the past year in Brandon, the center has installed a new playground for infants and is currently building an outdoor classroom for school-aged children, as well as launching a pre-adolescent/teen outdoor program and adding a new classroom for toddlers.

“Everything that we offer here in Rutland we want to make available to families in Brandon so they don’t have to drive all the way to Rutland,” said Feldman, who acknowledged that transportation can often be a barrier to services for some families.

Stephanie Carvey, Brandon site director, said the improvements will allow the center to better serve the Brandon community.

“And that means better support for the new programming that we’re slowly introducing out here,” she said.

That programming currently includes infant care, universal pre-K and an after-school program that focuses on grade-level reading.

Carvey, who has been with the parent/child program for more than a year, said she’s enjoying her time in Brandon, where she has worked since July.

“It’s definitely a different beast, and I like it,” she said. “It’s off the beaten path out here in Brandon. We have way more room to really explore nature.”

According to Carvey, the Brandon site is licensed for up to 54 children from 6 weeks of age to 12 years old and employs around a half dozen people.

Feldman, who admitted that staffing has been difficult throughout the pandemic, said the organization is now offering a $1,000 hiring bonus, which has attracted some new applicants.

“It’s still a struggle, but I’m confident that we have really good people who are qualified doing the work,” she said.

Carvey noted that the center has been a critical resource for families during the pandemic.

“It’s not just educating kids, it’s giving families the opportunity to get back to work,” she said.

Carvey added that the center also helps children struggling to recover from learning loss due to being outside the classroom for so long. She cited the example of her son, who missed out on half of his kindergarten year due to the pandemic.

Those kids took a big hit from COVID, she said. “So we really want to focus on bringing those skills back up.”

In addition to child care and early education programs, the Brandon site also has a food pantry, which serves about 40 families, according to Carvey.

The pantry is open and welcoming new appointments, she said. Anyone looking for assistance may call (802) 247-8251.

jim.sabataso@rutlandherald.com

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