Penfield Children's Center helps developmentally disabled children, families get care they need


by Lane Kimble

MILWAUKEE -- Two-year-old Myles certainly loves his hugs.  He gets them often from his occupational therapist, Aimee, while  spending time at Milwaukee's Penfield Children's Center.

"He is a joy to work with," Aimee said of Myles.

Myles first came to Penfield last August.  But working and playing with him comes with its struggles.   Born with down syndrome and fused fingers, Myles also suffers from several heart defects.

"He wasn't doing some basic things, like sitting by himself yet or rolling on his own," Aimee said.  "And since that  time we've been working really hard to have him meet all his milestones."

Myles has learned to walk, sit, roll and crawl all in a year.  The Penfield Children's Center helped make a lot of that development possible.

The center was founded in 1967 and moved into its current spot, on 26th and Wells, in the early 70s.  Many of the 1600 children Penfield helps every year are developmentally delayed.

"Often times our referrals will come from physicians who notice the delay and then refer them to the  program, but families by and large are not aware there is a program that they can go to to get help," Penfield President and CEO Christine Holmes said.

That federal program is called "Birth to Three."  it allows families with developmentally disabled  children, especially those below the poverty line, to get help at little or no cost.  Penfield provides those families with treatment that's not found anywhere else southeastern Wisconsin.

"We're really the only one of our kind that is inclusive, family-oriented and has all of the services available, including the social services, mental health, physical health and our education program right in one location," Holmes said.

But the federal money only goes so far.  Along with billing and a contract with Milwaukee County, Penfield gets nearly one-third of its funding from private donations.  One of the area's biggest contributors is Kohl's.

"What Kohl's Cares allows us to do is to purchase extra supplies and extra pieces of equipment and extra educational toys so that we can leave those pieces of equipment with the child for the family to use during the course of the week when the therapist isn't there," Holmes said.

That kind of treatment has helped kids like Myles put their development on track.

"When we're not working with them, they're at home," Aimee said.  "And if they're not working on the same goals at home, it's not going to carry over.  It's not going to be as successful if we don't have the families on board and help the families get the different equipment or toys that they need."

Thanks to Penfield and Kohls, those tools are right at parents, caregivers and children's fingertips.

"I wish my child could stay longer," Holmes said of other parents.  "That's the number one comment we get from families."

Families who can't thank the Penfield Children's Center enough for making Milwaukee great.


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