Heather Mills Visits Project Explore in Valhalla New York for Naming of the Heather Mills Child Development Center
On February 16th noted international philanthropist Heather Mills visited Project Explore in Valhalla, New York. Since 2009, Ms. Mills has been one of Easterseals New York’s most generous benefactors. Her support includes a $125,000 gift to purchase and refurbish the building at 70 Columbus Avenue in Valhalla that houses Project Explore and now bears her name - the Heather Mills Child Development Center.
At Valhalla, Ms. Mills met with Easterseals New York leadership and staff, including Fedcap President and CEO Christine McMahon, Craig Stenning, Senior VP of Occupational Health, and Michael Friedman, Board Chair of Easterseals New York.
“Heather’s visit brought much joy and happiness to the children and inspired our staff,” Ms. McMahon said. “Her generous support of Project Explore has enabled Marianne and her team to expand the program’s services and reach, and ensured the program’s strength going forward. Naming the building in her honor is a small token of our deep gratitude.”
The visit had special resonance because Ms. Mills, in addition to her supporter of Project Explore, is a fearless advocate and remarkable role model for individuals with barriers. An amputee, Ms. Mills has strived to become a world-class athlete, setting a record as the World’s Fastest Woman Skier With Disabilities when she reached a speed of 103 mph at the French Ski Resort of Vars in 2015. She has received numerous awards for her philanthropic efforts, and in 1996 was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with amputees.
Developed in conjunction with the Valhalla School District, Project Explore focuses on cognitive, social and language development for pre-k children with special needs, and includes an after-school program for students ages 5 through 12, as well as integrated preschool and inclusive child day care programs. The program has been a staple in the community for over 15 years, and its remarkable professional staff has helped countless children with physical and/or developmental disabilities thrive, succeed and move on to the next grade in integrated environments with their normally developing peers.
Ms. Mills gift has had a huge impact on the capacity of Project Explore to serve families and children in Valhalla. Marianne Gribbon, Senior Director of Childhood Programs for Easterseals, said - “Since Heather’s generous donation, we have improved our Occupational and Physical Therapy Gym, added a Speech Suite, and begun the process of obtaining bids for an elevator installation. We’ve expanded our services to a wider population base by offering a special class setting for those students with greater needs as well as related services for students that require less instructional supports, but require support in speech or fine motor development in the community or local preschool.
The Heather Mills Child Development Center also offers an affordable, high quality, afterschool program to students in the Valhalla Union Free School District and the Mt. Pleasant Central School District. Heather’s gift allowed us to upgrade one of our rooms, expand our services and offer more availability to our communities. Having a reliable, affordable and enriching after school experience is invaluable to families with two working parents.”
At Valhalla, Ms. Mills spent much of her visit playing and interacting with the children. She joined them in drawing and games involving trucks, trains, dolls and more, and before long the kids were laughing and grinning. The children and staff had prepared a song performance for Heather in the school’s auditorium, and after it was over Heather joined the kids onstage for some inspired dancing! Going around in circles and spinning every which way, the children were a blur of energy and laughter as they followed Heather’s lead. Without a doubt Heather brought much joy and happiness to the children and inspired the staff.
“Easterseals has inspired me for so many years, and with its remarkable longevity has proven that what it does works,” Ms. Mills said. “Working with children in their formative years is critical, and for many hundreds of families Easterseals is making all of the difference.”
This was a day that the Easterseals community will cherish for a very long time. Thank you Heather Mills!