TThrough flexible, diverse and responsive programs, VAC provides a foundation of life skills to prepare individuals to reach their full potential as contributing members of society.
- All people are capable of change.
- Individuals flourish because they are nurtured, valued and treated with respect.
- Education is empowering.
- The family is the primary influence in a person’s life.
- Children belong in a family.
- Families are enhanced by support of the community.
- Children and family services are flexible and responsive to changing needs.
The Vermont Achievement Center, Inc., a 501 (c) 3 charitable organization has been serving the needs of children and families throughout the Rutland region and Vermont since 1937. VAC continues to offer innovative and responsive programs in special education, early education and child care, family social services and intervention, as well as water safety and aqua therapy. The programs provided by VAC touch the lives of more than 7,000 children and families throughout our region each year.
VAC has a notable history that represents the evolution of services to children with special needs. Always the pioneer, VAC has continued to be on the alert to changing trends in education and social service. Many devoted individuals and organizations have been involved over the past seventy years in the founding and continued growth of VAC. These leaders enabled VAC to remain flexible in serving the ever-changing needs of the community.
Emily Sheldon, who was hired in 1945 as VAC’s first program director, summarized the early years and the 28 years that followed during her tenure, “We were constantly reassessing needs and reassessing programs. We discontinued programs so that we could always reroute resources to where they were most needed and where that need was not being met by the public sector.” A process still practiced by VAC staff and volunteers today is filling gaps in necessary services as the needs of our communities change. VAC has responded to these needs with quality programs, consistently delivered by a skilled and dedicated staff and committed volunteers.
First incorporated as the Vermont Association for the Crippled, VAC served children with infantile paralysis, orthopedic handicaps and other crippling diseases. Later, as a result of much research VAC began focusing additional attention on children with hearing impairments. VAC soon discovered that children with hearing problems often had speech problems and children with speech problems often had cerebral palsy or cleft palates. These discoveries led to the development of cerebral palsy clinics and therapy provided by physical and occupational therapists.
Largely responsible for new legislation regarding special education for children suffering from a variety of conditions, VAC developed education-therapy programs and began working closely with school districts throughout Vermont. VAC continued to expand, adding new classrooms, an audiology department and finally the first and only pediatric convalescent unit in the state with round the clock medical care. Patients received intensive rehabilitation, educational programming, and a variety of support services.
With an increase in available programs, the original name of the association had become a misnomer. Parents were reluctant, for instance, to seek outpatient speech services at a center designated for the “crippled”. Likewise, young and old with the invisible handicap of a hearing loss could not identify with this word. By a consensus of staff and Board in 1974, the Vermont Association for the Crippled retained its acronym and took a positive and inclusive outlook by being renamed the Vermont Achievement Center.
In 1975, VAC opened the first therapy pool in Vermont. In addition to being an important resource for therapy and recreation for VAC children, the pool opened its doors to the general public. Over the years, the pool has been supported by a snowmobile ride-in sponsored by the Rutland County Chapter of Vermont Snow Travelers and by an endowment established by a group of VAC friends in the early 1980’s.
VAC had become very involved with special education and the public school districts. There was an increase in the severity and complexity of problems, including learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral problems, and multiple handicaps, affecting the children referred to and served by VAC. At this time, VAC received support from the state to provide educational services.
By the early 1980’s diagnostic technology had made it possible to identify new populations in need of specialized services. Services were now needed for children who in the past would not have survived infancy. Sexual abuse and human neglect had become problems that previously were kept under cover. This meant a new direction for VAC that included providing residential services for severe behavioral and emotionally disordered children.
During the 1990’s, there was a shift in focus for services provided to medically fragile children. The philosophy adopted by the State that all children as a first priority would be served within their own home setting or with a substitute family in the community caused a sharp decrease in referrals for VAC’s pediatric convalescent unit. As a result, the 20-bed unit was closed in 1995. VAC worked with state officials to place children in alternative home settings, and a creative approach was designed to continue to offer the physical and occupational services at VAC, under the umbrella of another health care provider.
With a renewed focus, VAC began to identify specific needs for children and families for which there were not adequate services at the time. Those needs spurred the development of intensive family based services, community-based crisis services, special case management services as well as enhancing programs in special education, early education and child care.
The history of VAC is intertwined with the history of the development of special services for children throughout Vermont. VAC has initiated programming and established standards of care, always striving to identify and meet the changing needs of children in Vermont, in partnership with other supporting organizations, collaborative partners, families and friends. We take pride in those we have served who have taken their places in society and whose achievements continually inspire us. Through many years and many changes, one thing has remained constant at the Vermont Achievement Center, and that is the ability to bring children and their families together with people who can help them.