MILTON — After spending the last month shadowing and learning, new Executive Director Sophia Donforth is taking the reins at Milton Family Community Center this month.
“I know this place is a labor of love for you, and I promise it will be a labor of love for me too,” she said to a crowd of MFCC staff at the transitional tree planting event last week.
After completing undergraduate studies at Cornell University, Donforth began her professional career as a middle school teacher. Vermont captured her attention years ago when moved to the state to get a Masters in education at University of Vermont.
When she was a new parent, Donforth attended a parent child center in Burlington. She knows how impactful they are to the community, so when the Executive Director position opened upon the announcement of Vikki Patterson’s retirement, she jumped at the opportunity.
Outside in the sunshine, Donforth sat down with the Independent last week to discuss her past experience and vision for MFCC.
Q: What was your previous experience with parent child centers and nonprofit work?
A: I was home raising some small children for a while, and during that time, I got involved at Janet S. Munt Family Room, which is a parent child center in Burlington. Right as I got involved there as a participant in programs, that program was being cut from the Visiting Nurse Association running it, so I got involved as an organizer of parents there. We formed an independent agency, and were able to carry on that important work for the community.
So for the last three years I’ve served as their board chair. That’s really my orientation to parent child centers and also my training in nonprofit management. It all came from the work I did there.
Q: What was the application and interview process like for this position?
A: It was all entirely over Zoom because of the pandemic, which was challenging. Today is one of the first times that I'm finally meeting the board in-person and seeing all of my staff out at once.
The process was thorough. They knew that this was a big ask to have somebody come in after someone has been here as long as Vicki [Patterson] has. It’s big shoes to fill.
Q: What has stood out to you the most during your month of training?
A: This job involves wearing so many different hats.
There’s a component that's managing childcare. There's a component that's all of the work that we do at the state level and networking with the other parent child centers. There’s a whole level of advocacy with the Legislature that I'm still learning. And then there's supporting our home visitors and our parents support workers.
It's a lot of different pieces. I also manage this building now and that's a new area to learn about. It's been exciting.
Q: Do you have any overarching goals yet for the center?
A: The way I see it, there are kind of two goals for this coming year. First, I would really like to see this center expand what it's offering to the community and connect more with other agencies in the area.
We're called the Milton Family Community Center, but we are regional, we have a catchment area that's really the entire northern portion of Chittenden County. I'm looking for there to be more outreach into outlying areas, and everybody's got ideas about how to do that.
We've been making some changes to our food shelf here. That’s really been evolving to be more accessible, more open to folks and more farmer’s market-esque. We want folks to be able to drop by and pick out their own fruits and vegetables.
We also have a program that is getting started any day now, called Parent Cafe, that's going to be a drop in situation where parents can come with their kids to do an activity together, but the goal is not just the fun of that activity, but also to connect with other parents, to bring in some real education for folks to because that's what we need for families, is a growth of their skills but also of their network Parenting is a lonely, lonely job.
The second goal, more internally, is about investing in our staff. We have had a lot of turnover, especially in the last year, but also in recent years. I want to figure out what we need to do in terms of staff development and skills here at the center so that we can retain folks.
Q: How are you getting acquainted with the larger Milton community?
A: I live in Burlington, so this is new territory and that's honestly part of what’s so exciting for me right now.
I’m starting to do that outreach, trying to connect with folks at the recreation department, and I'm headed to the next Colchester-Milton rotary meeting.
The staff has been great about passing out previous partners that we had, and so I will be going on a little introductory tour over the course of the month of July.
Q: How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
A: I’m a big gardener, so I’m excited about the gardens newly growing here. It’s been fun to bring things from my own overflowing garden to the food shelf.
I’m also a singer and a dancer. I sing with the Burlington Social Band and have been Contra dancing all over the state and all over the country. I started when I was 18; that’s how I met my husband.