Member Spotlight: Laughlin Children’s Center

Unifying the voice of nonprofits to leverage their power

“If a child cannot learn the way I teach, then I must teach the way he learns.” This quote from renowned educator, psychologist, and reading specialist Anna Gillingham has guided the clinicians at The Mary & Alexander Laughlin Children’s Center in Sewickley for almost 60 years. The nonprofit, founded in 1956, helps 1,600 children and their families each year from throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, by providing academic, psychological, speech, and occupational therapy services.

But the Center’s history of helping young families stretches much further back—all the way to 1897, when Mary Laughlin convinced her husband Alexander to build a 25-bedroom home for new-born infants and their mothers, as a place of recuperation and respite from Industrial-Age Pittsburgh’s stifling pollution. From its founding until its closure in 1952, the Sewickley Fresh Air Home, located in the hills above the Ohio River—a full-day’s journey from Pittsburgh at the time—provided summertime and eventually year-round care for as many as thirty to forty children at a time. Mrs. Laughlin was the home’s founder, president of its board of managers, and a driving force in the success of its program.

When she died in 1953, leaving a sizeable bequest to the recently closed home, the trustees and surviving board members voted to merge with the Child Counseling Center of Sewickley, another nonprofit that provided psychological counseling for individual children and their families. There was significant community need for the agency’s services, but it lacked a long-term funding source. The two child service organizations had in common several active board members and, through those connections, it was arranged that the organizations would be merged into one, and the surviving organization—Laughlin Children’s Center—would receive Mrs. Laughlin’s bequest.

Today, the mission of Laughlin Children’s Center is to be a bridge to learning success. Our programs span the scope of a child’s academic experience. Our nationally-accredited (NAEYC) preschool for three, four and five year olds provides a safe and fun way for young children to learn about the world around them, through a developmentally-appropriate curriculum.  For children struggling with learning, we provide support through testing and therapies in the fields of academics, psychology, speech-language, and occupational therapies. Laughlin’s one-on-one academic tutoring program offers support from expert teachers in areas of reading, written language, math, study techniques, and goal-setting skills, tailored to a student’s individual needs; its Dyslexia Program uses certified Orton-Gillingham teachers to help children overcome language-based learning difficulties. For children requiring support from psychological, speech-language, or occupational therapies, our licensed psychologists, speech pathologists, and occupational therapists develop specific treatment plans to meet individual needs.

Laughlin Center’s multi-disciplinary services and focus of attention on the individual child are profoundly different from other learning centers, and make us a unique partner for schools and families who are helping children struggling to learn. We fund our operations through fees for services and insurance reimbursements, private donations, and foundation support, while offering a generous financial aid program to families who qualify. Membership in GPNP has introduced Laughlin to an array of community partners, and was the inspiration for the forming of the Sewickley Non-Profit Partnership, a group of two dozen Sewickley-based nonprofits that meets regularly to discuss issues affecting the local not-for-profit sector.