FARMINGTON  — For 35 years, the Franklin County Children’s Task Force has worked to strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect in Franklin County.

About 100 board members, volunteers and community members gathered Thursday at the University of Maine at Farmington to celebrate the organization’s 35th anniversary. 

In the late 1970s, a group of parents and professionals spent time discussing the needs of families in Franklin County. It was from those talks that the organization began on Oct. 3, 1978.

Now, more than 6,000 people, including students, young children and parents, benefit from the work of the nonprofit organization. It has grown from one part-time executive director to a staff of 10 full-time employees, Renee Blanchet, executive director, said.

“It’s all about kids,” board member Jennifer Hutchinson said.

An investment in children before they start school can result in higher rates of graduates and lower rates of crime, Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills told the gathering. The information was taken from a Fight Crime: Invest in Kids report released this week, she said.

Along with recognition of funders, volunteers, employees and staff, Blanchet presented three awards on behalf of the organization.

An Outstanding Business Collaborator Award went to Barclay’s of Wilton. They match employee contributions and help fund programs in schools, she said.

For their efforts and support, Blanchet presented an Outstanding Community Organization award to Franklin Memorial Hospital.

A Lifetime Volunteer award was presented to Colon Durrell who has served 23 years on the organization’s Board of Directors.

“He’s our go-to man for everything,” Blanchet said.

Durrell, now vice chairman, has served as treasurer.

“There have been some tough times along the way but we just figure it out,” he said. The organization looks for grants, funding from local businesses and organizations, including the United Way, and fundraising to support the program and staff.

Programs bring staff into homes of young children to provide parenting education or bullying-teasing prevention programs for schools within Franklin County.

As a board member, he’s not involved with the actual programs, he said. His favorite one, though, is the Baby Think It Over program. Computer-programmed dolls provide high school students with a chance to care for a simulated live baby. The doll records how well it was treated and whether its diaper was changed, he said.

He was a new grandfather in 1990 when he became involved. As a real estate agent he helped the organization obtain the building, formerly Currier Insurance on Church Street, as a permanent home.

An interim executive director for a few years prior to Blanchet, Thomas Taylor helped the Task Force receive a federal Early Learning Opportunity Grant.  He governed the use of the grant for Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin counties, he said.

“I had big shoes to fill,” Blanchet said.

Many board members have served for several years. Gordon Flint of Wilton was on the board for about 20 years, he said.

He’s been off a couple years but those years were excellent ones for the organization. They’ve increased staff and obtained significant grants to help continue the programs, he added.

Looking to the future, the Children’s Task Force intends to focus on adverse childhood experiences that can cause a lifelong affect on a child, Blanchet said.

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