IN NOVEMBER OF 1937, an old Burlington storefront at 116 Cherry Street was transformed into the Burlington Community Center. At the Center, Irish, Italian, and French-Canadian immigrants learned English, studied for citizenship tests, and immersed themselves in other classes such as cooking and sewing. A nursery school provided care for their children.
The Center was founded by Sara M. Holbrook, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Vermont. After working in settlement houses in New York City, she brought the model back to Burlington. With Dr. Bertha Terrill, Chairman of the Home Economics Department of UVM, and other community members, Sara secured funding to open the Center.
During the ensuing years, the Sara Holbrook Community Center (SHCC) initiated many services to assist low-income children and their families. The Burlington Boys and Girls Club grew from programs started at the Center and became an independent agency in 1941. In addition to child care programs, the SHCC developed and housed Burlington’s first emergency shelter in 1982. Eventually, this program also mushroomed into its own agency, the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS). In 1985, the SHCC partnered with the Burlington Police Department and a local radio station to provide a telephone check-in service for children home alone after school. In response to a tragic community fire, the SHCC coordinated the installation of 3,000 smoke detectors into area homes in 1987. In 1989, the SHCC initiated New Arrivals, a summer language program for refugee and immigrant children; the first of its kind in the state.
Today, the Sara Holbrook Community Center, renamed after its founder, is located in the heart of the Old North End, a neighborhood with one of the highest concentrations of poverty in Vermont. The Center continues Sara’s vision by offering numerous programs that meet the needs of newly arrived and settled families throughout Chittenden County.
Most recently, the Center expanded with the addition of the Sara Holbrook Teen Center (formerly known as the New North End Youth Center). For over 10 years, the Teen Center has offered after school and evening programs for middle school and high school youth. Over 1,000 youth are served through innovative programming each year.