Doug Florey might not live in Sewickley, but his smiling face is so familiar and he is so active in our community that he earns honorary status as a member of the Village People.
As the director of Laughlin Center, he works hard to bring many services to our children and those in surrounding areas. Read on to find out more about Doug, his dedication to his work and the exciting things planned for this summer at Laughlin Center, which provides educational, speech and language, psychological and early childhood services.
Q. What is your full name?
A. John Douglas Florey, but I've been called "Doug" all my life. The first time we went to London, the customs agent snickered when he looked at my passport. We found out later that "John Douglas" is British slang for toilet.
Q. Where do you live?
A. We live in Rosslyn Farms on an acre overlooking what used to be rolling hills but is now the encroaching sprawl of Robinson.
Q. What do you love about the area?
A. Today, I love the cherry trees that Jim Edson and the Sewickley Tree Commission planted along the streets of the village. This summer I'll love spotting the pair of red-wing blackbirds that roost in the crabapple tree near Ohio River Boulevard as I drive into Sewickley each morning.
In the fall, I'll love walking along Woodland Road on my lunch hour, seeing all the trees wearing russet, crimson and gold leaves. This winter, I'll love that moment during the Friday night kick-off to Yuletide, when I look around at the people, the lights, the LCC staff and think: 'Wow, we're lucky.'
Q. What do you do for a living?
A. I'm the director of the Mary and Alexander Laughlin Children's Center, a great Sewickley institution created out of two much older organizations: the Sewickley Fresh Air Home, which Mary Laughlin founded by in 1897; and the Sewickley Child Counseling Center, which Virginia Nix started in the early 1950s with money she received from a child health grant. Those two organizations merged, and Laughlin Children's Center is the result.
Q. What is the center's mission?
A. Laughlin Center acts as a bridge to successful learning for all children. We do that by offering a range of services, from evaluations, screenings and assessments, to one-on-one tutoring, speech therapy, child and family counseling. We also run The Village Preschool, which is one of the only local preschools that the National Association for the Education of Young Children accredited. We're really proud of that, since it takes an enormous amount of time and expense to achieve and keep that accreditation. It is an indicator to parents of a high-quality preschool experience.
Q. How long have they been serving our community?
A. We began serving children and families in 1956 and have been part of Sewickley ever since.
Q. What do you enjoy about your job?
A. What makes my specific job great is having such dedicated and talented staff, a supportive and engaged governing board and local colleagues who are passionate about the region and our quality of life. Without those three critical pieces, my job wouldn't be great.
What makes the broader job [performed by the center] great is seeing the progress that children make when they come to our preschool or our academic, speech or psychology programs.
It is a gift to watch a shy, introverted child who is struggling in school turn into a confident student who loves the act of learning, and because Laughlin has the gifted staff that it does, I get to see that transformation over and over again throughout the year. [It’s] a blessing, a true, amazing, priceless blessing.
Q. What makes a bad day for you?
A. Hearing of a child who veers off-course. We hear about the risky behavior that our teens sometimes engage in, and it's always difficult to listen to another story about a good kid caught in a bad situation.
The redeeming part of those stories is the amazing support network [available to] children and families from . I'm in awe of the work that my colleagues at places like Samaritan Counseling, Union Aid [Society], the MCA, Sweetwater, the and the Quaker Valley School District undertake. Thankfully, in many cases, [staff at those agencies or] the local guidance counselors are able to plug children and families into services like those at Laughlin and the others I just mentioned, which can help turn that bad situation into something more positive.
Q. What does LCC offer and to whom?
A. One long-running myth that I'd love to bust: We're not a special-needs center. We serve all sorts of children, some with special needs, some without. We offer not only remediation but also enrichment programs so that kids can keep up, stay strong or move ahead. Our clients look like the real world; some have disabilities or delays, some don't. It is that richness of diversity that helps make Laughlin the terrific place that it is.
I love that we serve children with special-needs diagnoses alongside children who don't but might fall through the cracks without the support that we provide. [The center also serves] kids who are typically developing and need additional challenges to make their learning experience all that it can be.
As far as specific services, we have three clusters: academics, psychology and speech. Each of those clusters has its own methods of evaluation and intervention. In other words, you can come to Laughlin to have your child tested for a communication deficit, have an academic evaluation or psychological testing. Children can receive tutoring, speech therapy, and counseling.
The part that makes Laughlin special, though, is how these three departments work together and how the clinicians from each of these disciplines work in conjunction with their colleagues to make sure that the issues a child is facing [and] impact his or her learning can be identified and supports put into place to make a difference.
For example, let's say you bring your third-grade daughter to us because she's not doing well in school. Through an academic and psychological evaluation, we might find that the issue isn't academics at all. Perhaps she is grieving over the death of a grandparent or struggling with the changes a divorce has made on the family's life together.
Another quick example: a speech therapist and one of our counselors each visit The Village Preschool classroom regularly to do small-group work, things like pragmatic speech, or understanding your feelings. While our early childhood teachers are terrific at what they do, having a speech pathologist or a certified professional counselor on staff adds to the quality of the service the preschool teachers can provide.
Q. You also are the host for the Sewickley Moms Club. What made you decide to take on that role?
A. I'm a big, big proponent of collaboration. As a nonprofit community resource, Laughlin Children's Center needs to be knit into the fabric of the community in any way that it can be. We're not one of those national, for-profit tutoring centers for whom the bottom line is a profit-and-loss statement.
We were founded by a woman who convinced her husband in 1897 to build a mansion in the hills above Sewickley so that she could bring new mothers and infants out of the pollution of turn-of-the-century industrial Pittsburgh and into the fresh air of the country. That tells you where I need to be focusing my attention as director of Laughlin -- on being a support to the broader community.
Plus, who better to host the Moms Club than an organization that has so much to offer to families with young children, right? Of course, it doesn't hurt that they give us leftover cookies and other snacks after their meetings finish up.
Q. What other groups are you involved with?
A. Besides hosting the Community Youth Worker [who connects local youths with available resources] and the Sewickley Moms Club, Laughlin is involved with the Early Childhood Initiative, the Sewickley Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Sewickley Unleashed event committee, Youth Connect, advisory board, the Coraopolis Youth Network, and Quaker Valley's Innovate! meetings.
Personally, I volunteer with the Pittsburgh Botanic Gardens project and am a member of Phipps Conservatory, the National Aviary and the Frick [Art & Historical Center] . I have a deep personal concern for animal welfare and the environment.
We have a statement we include on all of LCC's publications that really ties all of these together: Along with successful learning, Laughlin Children's Center believes that one of the most important gifts we can give our children is a healthy planet. This publication uses recycled paper and vegetable-based inks.
I know that gesture won't save the world, but it is a small step we can take to make sure that our children inherit the world we want them to live in.
Q. What's coming up on the calendar for LCC?
A. We're proud to be partnering with a number of local organizations to help the Quaker Valley school district continue to offer a broad range of opportunities for children over the summer months.
We're hosting one-on-one tutoring in a variety of formats geared toward individual needs: from a slow and steady approach, where students come once or twice a week all summer; to a more targeted format, where a child attends every day for several weeks; to a late-August Jump Start week, designed to ease children back into the academic schedule.
We'll have an SAT boot camp for both verbal and math skills, an organization and study skills small group for middle and high schoolers and a pre-reading skills group for pre-K and kindergarten students.
We are an approved provider of credit recovery, what you and I used to call Summer School, for high-school students who need to take or retake a course to advance to the next grade. Of course, our speech and psychology services continue year round.
On the special event horizon, we have the final "Harry Potter" movie premiere to look forward to in July. It has been a long tradition for Laughlin to offer a special screening of each of the seven previous "Harry Potter" films, and when this eighth one fades into the final credits, it will really mark the end of an era.
We have families who have attended all of the movie events we've held and a number of local business owners, like "Potter"-nut Don Reinhardt of who comes in costume some years. We're waiting for Warner Bros. to release details, but we hope to have an advanced screening and party the night before the movie opens nationally.
But the biggest, most exciting thing on our summer calendar is the renovation that the three buildings and our grounds are undergoing. We have a crew doing prep work on our 19th-century carriage house in anticipation of turning that little gem of a building into the new home of The Village Preschool.
Our main building and the cottage are getting facelifts as well. While the services we offer and approaches we use are up to date and among the best in the region, our physical space is really showing its age. After all, we've served over a thousand kiddos a year for more than 50 years. That 's a lot of little hands.
The renovation plans, put together by Gretchen Barlett of Barlett Design, take into account the historical aspects of our buildings but bring them into the 21st century and allow us to use best practices with all of our clients. The crowning jewel to the renovation will be the new playground and landscaping, which we hope to have in place in time for the new school year.
Q. Where is the center headed in the future?
A. The renovation is going to make a big impact on how we provide services and what directions we'll grow in.
While we're not changing the footprint of the buildings, we are increasing our usable space, giving us an opportunity to both enlarge our existing services and expand into new ones. Some of the things we're thinking about include developing a social-readiness program for children entering kindergarten -- the focus on academics that many preschools have has left a lot of kids without the social skills they need to navigate a school-based classroom.
Things like turn-taking, sharing and other basic social development skills are critical to success in kindergarten and beyond, and not every child learns these before that first day of kindergarten. We think we can help kindergarten teachers, students and their families with that situation.
We're also looking at expanding the types of psychological evaluations and therapies that we do, adding an occupational therapist to our cadre of clinicians and screening for additional speech-language issues.
I'm proud that we have, and continue to develop, a team of experts who can help with all aspects of a child's educational experience, and I encourage parents who have concerns about their children to contact us.
Q. How can people support LCC?
A. We have such generous supporters already, and they help underwrite everything we do, including our financial aid program that allows us to provide services to children regardless of their family's ability to pay. But we're always looking to expand our donor base so that we can continue that long history of financial aid and service delivery.
And, of course, we're hoping the community will pitch in and help us reach our renovation fund goal. We have had great success with a number of foundations, including the H.J. Heinz Foundation, Richard King Mellon [Foundation], PNC Charitable Trust, the O'Neill Foundation, the R.P. Simmons Family Foundation and others.
With their support, we're well on our way to meeting, or even exceeding, our goal of $700,000. We'll be launching the public part of our campaign later this spring, and I have high hopes that our friends and neighbors, current and former clients will all step forward and help us ensure that the center will be serving local families for another 50 years.