$2 Million Gift Supports Early Childhood Programs

MADISON – A gift of $2 million from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation will support the continued growth of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Waisman Center’s renowned programs in education, research and intervention for children with disabilities.

The Waisman Center’s programs are recognized as national models in helping advance the understanding and development of young children of all abilities, and particularly those with physical and cognitive disabilities. The gift to the UW Foundation’s capital campaign for the Waisman Center enabled the center to upgrade and expand inclusive early childhood and early intervention facilities.

“I am delighted to support the Waisman Center’s excellent program for children with developmental difficulties,” says Pleasant Rowland, retired founder and president of Pleasant Company. “I began my career as an early childhood teacher and know first-hand how valuable the center’s work is in the area of developmental disabilities. The Waisman Center is one of the great resources of UW-Madison, and its holistic research, training, and outreach approach is a national model.”

Rowland is the creator of the American Girl brand, a line of books and products devoted to teaching young girls about American history. In addition to supporting the arts and historic preservation projects, Rowland’s foundation is also committed to advancing education for children.

The Waisman Center is one of 14 national centers dedicated to the advancement of knowledge about human development and developmental disabilities. The center opened in 1973 and is named after Harry A. Waisman, a former UW-Madison clinician and one of the pioneers in research on mental retardation. The center draws together more than 500 faculty and staff from 27 different departments at the university.

“We are extremely grateful for the generosity of the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation in helping us strengthen a program that is enriching the lives of children with developmental disabilities and their families,” says Marsha Mailick Seltzer, acting director of the Waisman Center. “This is the largest single gift we have received that directly supports these nationally recognized early childhood programs.”

A trademark of the Waisman Early Childhood Center is its inclusive enrollment mission. Up to 30 percent of the enrolled children have developmental or physical disabilities or delays, and the resulting mix enables children with a diverse range of abilities to come together in a single classroom setting. This inclusive approach, now a national goal in public education, is rarely achieved at the early childhood level. A second program, devoted to early intervention for families of children with special needs, also benefited from the gift.This outreach program serves more than 300 families with young children who have developmental delays or disabilities, and provides training and technical assistance to early intervention programs throughout Wisconsin.

The gift helped the early childhood program double enrollment to nearly 100 children and improve research space. Research projects under way are working toward new insights in language development, auditory and cognitive development and improvement of motor skills.