Sewickley Herald Man of the Year: Laughlin Center director says collaboration key to success
By Bobby Cherry
Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Collaboration, kindness and a little bit of color.
Those are the driving forces behind Douglas Florey's dedication to the Mary and Alexander Laughlin Children's Center and the Sewickley Valley community, and are the reasons he was selected as the Sewickley Herald's Man of the Year.
Florey, who serves as executive director to the nonprofit childhood educational services center, led the Frederick Avenue facility through a nearly two-year, $750,000 project to revamp all of the inside space at the facility, which was completed last year.
In addition to his duties overseeing Laughlin, Florey helped to create a consortium of Sewickley area nonprofits and their executive directors in an effort to pool ideas, questions and discussions.
“So much of what I've been able to accomplish has really just been getting Party A to talk with Party B, and then getting the heck out of the way — whether that's within Laughlin's own staff, or Laughlin and the (Quaker Valley School District) or whether that's between community members — the whole thing is communication,” said Florey, 47.
“That's been the key to everything that I've been able to do at Laughlin. It's all about talking to each other and figuring out ways to collaborate.”
Created about two years ago, the consortium includes more than 20 nonprofit groups from around the local area, and has allowed leaders of the various organizations — ranging from Heritage Valley Health System to the Village Theater Co. — to discuss trends and issues facing nonprofits, Florey said.
“It gives the directors a chance to strut their stuff. But it also gives us a forum to talk about common concerns.
“Although I wasn't in the community before, I've heard enough anecdotal stuff to know that groups weren't talking to each other and communicating the way they are today,” he said. “That's not laying blame at anybody's doorsteps, it's just that it was the way it was.”
Florey said he credits Laughlin's board of directors for allowing him to step outside the center's walls and become part of the community.
“If Laughlin is going to be a community resource, then we have to truly be engaged with the community beyond just providing tutoring, speech and psychology services,” he said.
“We have to be helping our fellow merchants and nonprofits. We have to be engaged with the residents in a broader conversation than just with the folks who come to us for services.
“Instead of worrying about, ‘Are my employees coming to work on time?,' I can get out there and just be a cheerleader. And that's a really easy job when you truly believe in the organization you're cheering about.”
His out-of-the-box approach to community engagement and concern for children, he said, comes from Laughlin's roots with Mary Laughlin, whose family started the Laughlin Tube Co., and the creation of a fresh-air home in Sewickley to help mothers escape industrial pollution of Downtown, which at the time would have been several hours away from the Sewickley Valley by carriage.
“It's 1897, Florey said. “For her to think about the fact that pollution is bad for you, and there are poor women having babies and they're stuck in this pollution — because they weren't her friends; they weren't people she surrounded herself with — is very radical.
“Whenever I'm in the community or worried about where we're going to come up with enough money to fund our financial aid or worried about staff salaries, I think, ‘What would Mary Laughlin do?'” She's such the shining example of thinking outside the box — thinking bigger than yourself and thinking about the community in a really broad way.”
Mary Laughlin died in 1953, but left behind a large bequest, and in 1956, the fresh-air home merged with the Child Counseling Center of Sewickley Valley.
The center's earliest programs were described as “academic and emotional support for children who encounter problems in learning processes” — a description Florey said still applies to programs offered now.
Before arriving at Laughlin in 2006, Florey said he knew little about the Sewickley Valley.
“What I knew about Sewickley was the Sewickley Car Store. We'd bring our cars here to get inspected,” Florey said of he and his partner David Lloyd. The couple live in Rosslyn Farms. “If we could figure out how to get from the car store to (the business district), we'd come for lunch. Some years, we just couldn't find our way up here.”
Since that time, though, Florey said he “can't picture another community more engaged in making sure it's kids are safe and well educated” than the Sewickley Valley.
He credits an engaged community for allowing the Laughlin Center to undergo extensive changes over the last several years.
“The $750,000 didn't come out of my pocket,” he said. “I was successful only because I had these other people who were generous and willing to step up to the plate.”
Brightly colored walls, hip furniture and a plethora of natural light welcome families to the center.
But it wasn't always that way.
“For a long time, the way we looked didn't match up with the work we did,” Florey said.Along with his colorful thinking comes a vibrant wardrobe that Florey said fits with the feeling at Laughlin.
“If you are a kid who is feeling depressed or a kid who is not doing well in school, the last place you want to be is Laughlin Children's Center,” he said. “So if I can come to work and have jack-o-lanterns embroidered on my pants, or a loud tie or a Mister Rogers sweater, and it makes a little kid laugh, I'm all for it.”
Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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