CORVALLIS, Ore. – One of the most innovative centers for children and families in the state, led by a pioneer in the field of integrated education, is being honored this month by Oregon State University.
The Old Mill Center for Children and Families in Corvallis is receiving OSU’s “Orange Spotlight” award, which highlights businesses and organizations either operated by Oregon State alums and faculty or who employ a large number of Oregon State graduates. These businesses demonstrate a dedication to community service, sustainability and innovation.
Bev Larson, an OSU graduate, helped establish the Old Mill Center in 1977 after being inspired by the marginalization she saw being experienced by disabled students. After Larson graduated with a degree in English education she got a job in California teaching high school students with disabilities. What Larson noticed immediately was the marginalization her students experienced.
It couldn’t have been more obvious, she pointed out. Their classroom – a trailer – wasn’t even attached to the school building. “I was appalled at how alienated those kids and their families were from the school system,” Larson said. “I thought, ‘these kids are so much more together than the school thinks they are.’”
Witnessing the wide gulf between her students’ abilities and how they were treated changed Larson’s plan to become an English teacher. Instead, she became dedicated to creating an integrated model of education that put children with “typical” and “atypical” needs in the same classroom.
This mainstreaming made Larson a pioneer in her field. By the time laws were created that required mainstreaming students with disabilities, Larson was ready to roll out an integrated curriculum for pre-school kids that was replicated throughout the country. And she was starting to draw more family services together, like counseling and speech therapy, to exist under one roof.
Larson returned to Corvallis and helped establish the Old Mill Center, which provides educational and counseling services for children from birth to 18, as well as their families. The theme of integration – not only in the classroom but in serving children’s families – is the driving force behind Old Mill, which began in 1977 as a pre-school serving eight families and grew into a multifaceted center serving more than 1,600 clients. Larson is now the executive director.
The center is the only one in Oregon to provide such a wide range of services. At Old Mill, families and children have access to early childhood development help, preschool, intensive day treatment, speech-language therapy and child and family counseling. The staff-to-student ratio is small.
Old Mill is the only facility in the county that can manage medication and provide services for children on the Oregon Health Plan. They are the only facility in Benton County that serves children without insurance. They serve families that are poor – and they serve families who have wealth and private insurance. They serve at-risk families and children, and those who are not.
“We have really moved away from working with just a child,” Larson said. “It’s clear for me that kids are part of family systems. They obviously don’t exist out of that system. Including families to work with children and youth is huge to make sure that we really make an impact on them.”
Several of Old Mill’s board members are Oregon State faculty and staff. More than half of the staff of 33 graduated from Oregon State, many of them from the College of Education’s program in counselor education. Old Mill hires six to eight interns a term from Oregon State, many of them from the department of human development and family sciences in the College of Health and Human Sciences.
Larson says Old Mill can provide support to any child.
“I encourage people to contact us if they’re having a concern about their child,” she said. “Or if they feel like their neighbor or grandchild could use support. It’s almost certain Old Mill has a program that could help them, or help them find the right resource.
“I can’t imagine anybody coming through the front door and hearing, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t help you.’”