Downtown Hampton Child Development Center was inspired by a comment that Hampton Mayor Ann Kilgore made to a women's group at First United Methodist in 1969. She said that one of the city's greatest needs was child care for children of low-income families in the community. Subsequently, a group of interested people, most of them from churches in the Downtown Hampton area, began meeting to organize a child care center. Community support was instrumental in the establishment of DHCDC and remains a driving factor to this day.
DHCDC opened its doors on April 19, 1971, for nine children on location at St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church. Soon, the center was serving 30 children between the ages of three and five. By 1975, DHCDC had moved to the newly completed Old Hampton Community Center on Lincoln Street. In 1985, DHCDC hired Jaynelle Oehler as its Executive Director, and she began guiding the center toward its superior standards of quality.
In 1988, DHCDC became the first center on the Peninsula to be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The program expanded again in 1995, when DHCDC partnered with Hampton City Schools to provide care and education for 4-year-olds through the Virginia Preschool Initiative. At that time, DHCDC began operating a location on the campus of the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind, and Multi-Disabled. By 2000, DHCDC was serving 210 children at its two locations. In 2004, DHCDC expanded to a third location on Battle Road near Thomas Nelson Community College. With the addition of that location, DHCDC become the only center on the Peninsula to offer a full-day, year-round inclusion program for preschoolers with special needs (such as Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy). DHCDC also began serving infant, as young as 6 weeks, at this new location.
The Battle Road location remained in operation until 2009, when the site was closed and the children moved to two temporary locations on in Downtown Hampton, until a large, permanent new home could be found. That hope was realized in summer 2010, when DHCDC leased the Mary Peake Center, a recently closed Hampton City elementary school. With its large classrooms, spacious campus and convenient location near the interstate, the Mary Peake Center offered the perfect space for consolidating the temporary locations, as well as the location on the now-closed deaf school campus. Now settled comfortably into their new home at Mary Peake, the children celebrated Jaynelle Oehler's 25th anniversary in 2010, as well as DHCDC's 40th anniversary in 2011.
Another great milestone in the 2010-2011 school year was earning Hampton's first four-star rating for early learning centers, at both our Lincoln Street AND Mary Peake locations (reviewed independently), through the state's Virginia Star Quality Initiative. In 2012, two great "eras" of DHCDC came to an end... on the same week! Our Lincoln Street location closed (its classrooms and staff merged into our Mary Peake location) on July 24 after 37 years in the same building, and Jaynelle Oehler retired from being Executive Director on July 27 after 27 years in the role. Our Administrative Director, Gail Gammon, stepped into the rold as Acting Executive Director until we welcomed Heather Livingston in July of 2014. Heather brought a fundraising background to the role, increasing both visibility and support from our local community. In June 2020, Heather retired and Dr. Jennifer Parish has taken the helm. Jennifer brings a wealth of educational and leadership experience to the role as we navigate through these unprecedented times.