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Cedarcrest celebrates 75 years of care

Keene Sentinel - 8/14/2022

Aug. 14—From its humble beginnings in 1947 as the Flying Pig Farm in Westmoreland, the Cedarcrest Center for Children with Disabilities has provided 24/7 care for children with complex medical and mental needs for 75 years.

And to celebrate that anniversary, more than 100 staff, family members, trustees and community members joined with the children Saturday to enjoy live music, backyard barbecue, a petting zoo and a short film detailing the center's history.

The nonprofit, now operating at 91 Maple Ave. in Keene, serves children and young adults from infancy to 21 years old, from communities throughout New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

Patty Farmer, director of development and communications, said the center staff — which include nurses, licensed nursing assistants and caregivers — provide a wide array of treatment and living accommodations to meet the needs of the children.

For example, of the nearly 30 children cared for by Cedarcrest, Farmer said around 10 require ventilators, a respiratory machine that helps move air in and out of one's lungs, and staff are able to provide the specialized care and technology that would be otherwise difficult in a traditional household.

"It's a different place," Farmer said. "It's not like a regular school, it's not like a hospital where you discharge. We bond here."

Jay Hayston, president and CEO, said Cedarcrest is also a place for children to stay until their families have the proper training and faculties to be able to care for them in their home.

He added that Cedarcrest staff are required to acclimate to the complex needs of each child which takes a lot of skill.

"It's just incredible, the work that they do," Hayston said. "It means 24/7, meeting the child where they are and making sure they have everything they need medically so that they can then pursue everything they need as children."

But most importantly, Cedarcrest is a place for kids facing daily obstacles to laugh and be able to act their age, Farmer said while giving The Sentinel a tour of the center's interior. As she spoke, children of all ages were socializing with each other, watching cartoons or playing with toys in a recreation area, while one girl hid underneath a zebra-print blanket.

"First and foremost, our goal is for them to be kids," Farmer said at the event. "We take care of all their medical, social and educational needs, but our primary focus is to make sure they have a typical life as their peers, despite the challenges that they face."

Cedarcrest has a history deeply rooted in Cheshire County, which was shown in the 15-minute film screened inside at the event.

The health care center was founded by Dorothy Sawyer, a trained nurse, and Eleanor Clement, an occupational therapist, who first started operating out of a six-room farmhouse. Families throughout New Hampshire sought their services and thus children came to the farm with many different physical and developmental challenges.

Over the years, their efforts grew, taking on more staff and expanding their caregiving facilities to more children, and in 1990, the center moved its operations to Keene.

As just one of around 40 pediatric nursing homes in the country, Kathy Willbarger, chairwoman of the center's board of trustees, said Cedarcrest is a vital component of the community.

"Without this resource, it would be very difficult for these kids to be taken care of in this type of environment," Willbarger said. "So for the families and for the children, this is a really special place for sure."

While the organization is a source of learning for some, offering special education programs at elementary, middle school and high school levels, for others, it represents a home too.

And that sentiment is echoed by Robin and Rob, who were attending Saturday's event. They asked The Sentinel not to use their last name to protect their family's privacy. Their daughter, Natalie, now 25, had stayed at Cedarcrest for a few days in respite care, and later enrolled in their special education in 2006.

"The staff is fabulous, like extended family," Robin said Saturday. "They're very loving. The stuff that they do with the kids is like what all other kids do."

Hunter Oberst can be reached at 355-8585, or


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