A champion for children

Published 9:19 pm Tuesday, October 22, 2013

From its humble beginning 30 years ago in a Sunday school classroom at a Suffolk church, The Children’s Center has grown into an important resource in the realm of early childhood education in Western Tidewater.

Much of the organization’s success can be attributed to the dedication, vision and hard work of Barbara Mease, The Children’s Center’s founding executive director, who retired last week.

Under Mease’s guiding hand, the organization has grown from that small classroom and a staff of 10 to encompass eight operating sites throughout Western Tidewater — including a facility off Wilroy Road in Suffolk. Today, there are 215 staff members serving many students and their families with Head Start and Early Head Start programs, as well as other services designed to help at-risk children and their families find success.

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“Barbara has always had vision for opportunities to provide services to children and families in partnership with our communities,” said Rosalind Cutchins, acting director. “Her leadership consistently had an eye to the future, while improving quality of the services offered.”

The Children’s Center is a private, nonprofit organization that has operated in Suffolk, Isle of Wight, Southampton and Franklin since 1983. The Center serves children of all levels of ability, including those with disabilities, and those who are economically disadvantaged. Its mission is to nurture and educate children and their families.

The Children’s Center provides Early Head Start services to children ages birth to 3 and pregnant women, Head Start services to children ages 3 and 4, Early Intervention services to infants and toddlers with delays in their development, licensed pediatric therapy and mental health services, and licensed early care and education for children 6 weeks to 5 years of age.

All of those programs share a common set of goals — equipping young mothers and families to raise their children in healthy environments, giving children the foundation they will need to be successful students and reducing the likelihood that intervention will be needed to get children and teenagers back on track physically, emotionally or intellectually later in their lives.

Mease has been a champion of support for early childhood development for all levels of ability and a strong proponent of aid for economically disadvantaged families. Her stalwart approach to the mission of The Children’s Center has improved the lives of thousands of children and their families throughout the area, and she will be greatly missed.