CODY, Wyo. — Racing the clock, Clark Wilcox checked his watch and applied another dab of color to the stormy skies over Grand Teton.
The quick-draw painting would later fetch $475 at Friday night’s auction for the Children’s Resource Center, placing it among the evening’s top-selling artworks rendered and purchased in the name of generosity.
As the well-attended fundraiser rolled into the evening Friday and patrons dined on hors d’oeuvres and red wine, Mitch Brauchie, executive director of the Children’s Resource Center, watched with gratitude.
The event generated $40,000 for the center, helping cover the matching funds the organization must raise to provide its services to families across the Bighorn Basin.
“For every $1 we raise here tonight, we’ll be able to match it with $9 from the state,” Brauchie said. “Our state legislators have been very supportive, but these matching funds are vital.”
The Children’s Resource Center works with children under age 5. Its counselors and therapists offer a bundle of services that include speech, physical and occupational therapy, special education, case management and counseling.
The center traces its roots to 1972, when a group of parents of disabled children organized the Northwest Child Development Center — now known as the Children’s Resource Center.
The Wyoming Legislature began funding the organization in 1978 through the Department of Health. More than 40 developmental preschools now operate across the state, including Region One of the Children’s Resource Center, which serves Park, Washakie, Big Horn and Hot Springs counties.
As the organization has grown over the past 30 years, it continues to receive strong support from the state. Brauchie noted the state legislators in attendance on Friday, adding that for every $1 spent on early childhood intervention, Wyoming saves roughly $7 in future special-education costs.
“Ninety percent of a child’s brain is developed by age 3,” Brauchie said. “We work hard to take advantage of that critical period.
“One-third of our kids will actually start school with age-appropriate skills and not need special education.”
For the other 66 percent, progress may come slower, but the agency’s counselors and therapists work hard to get their clients up to speed at an early age.
Amber Able and Carissa Lee, two recent University of Wyoming graduates who work as speech therapists at the Powell center, find reward in their work and seeing a child overcome the challenges of delayed language.
“When we provide services for our clients, we provide them in their home, a community based setting, or in their preschool or day cares,” Able said. “We try to do all we can to see them in their natural environment.”
Able described language delay as when a child older than 1 isn’t talking, or when a child younger than 1 doesn’t participate in reciprocal communication, such as smiling back at a parent.
Many times, she said, the child may progress on his or her own. Other times, however, treatment may be necessary, and that’s where the Children’s Resource Center comes into play.
“We work a lot with the parents,” Able said. “That’s a huge part of what we do. We go into the homes a lot and work with the families on how they can better interact with their children and be their best teacher.”
Like Able and the center’s other therapists, Lee sees around 30 children a week. The center provides services to more than 1,400 families across the Bighorn Basin, from Thermopolis to Worland to Lovell.
While her caseload is heavy and her services are in demand, Lee finds pleasure in helping children learn to communicate.
“It’s really great to see them when they finally understand what we’re trying to do,” said Lee. “It’s great when they start making those communications, whether it signing or saying more words and putting them together.”
Items up for auction Friday included a Mission Plains rug, which sold for $550, and an antler accent table, which brought $975. Jim Hagstrom’s quick-draw painting sold for $1,100, while Julie Oriet’s pastel sold for $700.
James Bama’s artist-proof print dubbed “Buffalo in Storm” was the night’s top seller, fetching $2,900 at auction.