SEBRING - Velma Lumpkin has served as the only executive director of the Avon Park Community Child Development Center since "day one," when it opened 31 years ago.
Her last day was Friday as the center's head, but Lumpkin said she is still going to "hang around" as a consultant.
Before the center opened, as a parent educator with the School Board of Highlands County, Lumpkin helped parents connect with services to help their children.
As Shirley Furr worked to establish the Child Development Center, her daughter, Pat Landress asked Lumpkin to head the center.
Lumpkin said, "I kind of tossed it around in my head and I talked with my family and I said, 'I don't want to see this vision of Miss Furr's go to nothing.'"
Lumpkin applied for the position because she didn't want to see someone come in and do the job for six months and then walk off before it had a chance to get started.
The center opened in 1982, in a city owned building at 800 S. Delaney Ave., with a capacity for 45 children.
Within the first week they already had a waiting list, Lumpkin noted. "That's how great the need was."
They quickly found the money to build an additional classroom to increase the capacity to 75, she said.
The center served children of needy families through various programs such as School Readiness, Head Start and the Child Care Food Program. Later the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program was added.
Due to the extra staffing costs, the center did not serve infants until 2010 when Lumpkin secured federal funding allowing the center to serve a total of 16 children/expectant mothers.
"We started with 12 pregnant women and four infants, early Head-Start age infants and toddlers" she said.
Barbara Heilig, the center's first treasurer, bequeathed the funding for the center's expansion in 2010.
Now the center is licensed for 146 children, but it serves about 100 because they try to maintain the standard space requirement of one child per 35 square-feet, Lumpkin said, though they are "grandfathered" into a less strict space requirement.
Antoinette Shaw will take over as the center's new executive director. She has worked at the center since 2006 as a mentor teacher.
It has been very emotional for her this week, Lumpkin said.
"It hit me - I'm leaving, I'm leaving," she said.
But Tuesday it was, "I'm leaving," Lumpkin said louder in a higher tone.
"My major focus and interest over the years has been about special needs children, just because they fight so hard," she said. "They get into the educational setting and they are expected to perform like normally developed children, but they can't. But they can do a lot more if we allow them and help them."
Lumpkin plans to continue to help special needs children through the Early Steps Program.
She was honored as the 2009 recipient of the Judge Kelly Champion for Children award.