Melanie Hamilton, who has a child with special needs, was among 11 Milford parents to graduate Monday night from an intensive 18-week, 100-hour parent leadership program.
"My 5-year-old son had a stroke at birth, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and I wanted to learn to become a better advocate for him and to become better connected to the community," said Hamilton, 41, owner of Great Beginnings Pre-School Milford.
The Parent Leadership Training Institute, in it's third year in Milford, teaches students the skills to become effective advocates for children in the community and beyond. In addition to classroom hours held at The First United Church of Christ in Milford, each student developed and put to life a project to benefit the community.
At Monday night's graduation ceremony at City Hall, Stacy Lesperance, a 44-year-old graduate, told MilfordPatch she plans to continue her community project.
"I am going to take what I learned and put it into action. I have already spoken to St. Mary's and Peggy Kelly about coordinating fundraisers to help the children of Haiti."
Kristy Brown, a 33-year-old graduate, said, "I worked with a really diverse group of people and we will all keep in touch in the future and maintain relationships. We learned how to be effective public speakers and everyone had to complete a community project. The majority of us will continue these projects."
Mayor James Richetelli Jr. reflected on the years before the program's manifestation.
"I was on a task force for children, youth and families and people spoke about having a PLTI (Parent Leadership Training Institute) in Milford. It was something that piqued my interest. So many sit back and complain about problems that exist, but it's another thing to make a difference. These students can be catalysts for change in our community."
Major funding of the program came from United Way of Milford, Kids Count of Milford and The William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund.
"This year we had no state grant funding for the program so the Milford community made thsi possible. It shows Milford as a community," Milford Health Director Dr. A. Dennis McBride.
The program also gives the option of attaining college credits from Charter Oak State College and continuing education credits, said Lesley Darling, PLTI coordinator.
"Former graduates of this program now hold key positions in the city and around the state," Darling said.
A graduation with students from 13 communities in Connecticut will be held later this month.