Project Doubles Coal Pit
Two years ago, as members of the Innsbrook Rotary Club sat down to screen proposals for their 20th anniversary project, one proposal kept rising to the top.
While the other plans were slick, polished, and professionally packaged, the one that caught the eye of the Rotarians was painstakingly handwritten.
“You could just see the passion in the handwriting,” recalls the club’s past president, Fred Thompson.
Authored by Dorothy Gallimore, founder and director of the Coal Pit Learning Center, the handwritten pages summed up Gallimore’s dream of reaching out to more low-income families.
Since 1976, more than 900 preschoolers have been educated in Coal Pit’s tiny, century-old building, originally built as a one-room schoolhouse for children of African-American coal miners.
But every year, far too many children were left on the waiting list due to the limited capacity of the aging structure. Even the three-to-five-year-olds lucky enough to attend the free program were limited to two or three mornings a week. The lack of space hampered family visits and gatherings for student performances or graduations; Gallimore’s “office space” consisted of a desk in a tiny, cramped closet.
In search of a cause to celebrate both the club’s anniversary and the Rotary International theme “Making Dreams Real,” committee members voted unanimously to support Gallimore’s dream.
Last month, they joined local and national officials at the Center to celebrate the culmination of the dream and open the doors to an expansion that doubled the school’s size.
At the Sept. 17 grand opening, National PTA President Charles J. Saylors was on hand to help cut the ribbon and praise the project as an example of what can result when county government, business leaders, civic associations, parents and teachers all work together to benefit children.
Noting that his job requires travels not only across the country, but also to Department of Defense affiliates in other lands, Saylors noted, “I’ve seen communities . . . where this air of cooperation does not exist.”
Doubling the capacity of the school will give that many more children the chance to begin their education “on the right foot,” said Saylors. “Thirty years from now, we may be working with an architect or doctor who started his or her education at this very spot.”
Innsbrook Rotarian Steve Bacon, president of the Coal Pit Learning Center Board of Directors, cited a recent Joint Chiefs of Staff study that examined the decline in skills among military recruits and determined that the number-one remedy was positive intervention at the preschool level.
At Coal Pit, he noted, testing shows that 95 percent of students are at or above age and grade level as they prepare to enter elementary school.
That is no small feat, added Bacon, considering the at-risk population that attends the Center. “Hard to believe, in the fashionable west end of Richmond,” said Bacon, “but there is abject poverty . . . within three miles of this school.”
Not only can the school now accept more children for preschool and after-school care, but it also can expand its hours of operation, enabling parents (many of them single) to work full-time.
The expanded facility, which replaced one small classroom with two large ones, also boasts wheelchair accessibility, kitchen and laundry facilities, and an office for Gallimore.
The Rotary club raised $140,000 for the project, and an estimated $110,000 in labor, materials and professional services were donated by businesses, civic and religious organizations and individuals. Thompson’s architectural firm, Architects Dayton and Thompson, provided architectural and design services. St. Michael’s Catholic Church and KBS Construction, both of which are located near the school, were among other local organizations that donated in-kind, helping to keep the project to about a third of what it normally would cost.
Jim Bynum, governor-elect for Rotary District 7600, noted at the grand opening that the Rotary district conference will be held in Short Pump next year, and that the Center will be showcased as a model service project for other clubs.
As the ribbon-cutting ceremony drew to a close and the crowd prepared to enter and view the improvements, Bacon pointed out that fundraising is an ongoing effort and that the Center operates on an annual budget of $90,000. “That’s miniscule by any standard,” added Bacon, “especially when you consider what’s accomplished here.”
For those who have taken part in the project, however, or who continue to contribute to the school’s success, the gratification is immediate.
“You can see the direct benefit of your contribution at any time,” said Bacon. “It’s right here in the middle of your community.
“What a win, win, win situation,” exulted Bacon. “For children, for their entire family, and for our community!”
For details about the Coal Pit School, visit coalpitlearningcenter.com; for details about the expansion project, visit innsbrookrotary.org.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) will host a candlelight vigil of remembrance and hope Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. at the University of Richmond, outside the Cannon Chapel. The public is invited to attend and join MADD to honor victims of impaired driving crashes, while helping to remind the community to be safe during the holidays. > Read more.
Among participants at the Seventh Annual Coordinators2Inc Golf Tournament and awards luncheon Oct. 3 were (from left) Rebecca Ricardo, C2 Inc executive director; Kevin Derr, member of the winning foursome; Sharon Richardson, C2 Inc founder; and Frank Ridgway and Jon King, members of the winning foursome.
Held at The Crossings Golf Club, the tournament will benefit placement of children from Virginia's foster care system into permanent families through Coordinators2. > Read more.
Event will help kick of Marine Corps' 'Toys for Tots' campaign
All 140 A.C. Moore locations will serve as drop-off centers this year for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, and all toys collected will stay in the local communities served by the stores in which they are donated.
On Saturday, Nov. 15, the Willow Lawn location will kick off the month-long program by hosting a "Make & Take" craft event for kids. Children ages six and older will be able to make a craft and take it home with them. Representatives from the Marines will be in-store to teach customers about the Toys for Tots program. A.C. Moore team members will be on site to help with the crafts. > Read more.
Bella’s feels – and tastes – like Italy should
Short Pump is known for its share of chain restaurants and strip malls, but diners looking for something more distinct can certainly find it without heading downtown or to nearby Charlottesville.
In fact, local husband-and-wife restaurateurs Valeria Bisenti and Doug Muir brought a taste of Charlottesville (and Italy) to Short Pump when they took a chance and opened Bella’s second location in the same shopping strip as Wal-Mart and Peter Chang China Cafe. (Bella’s original location is on Main Street in downtown Charlottesville.)
For a local Italian restaurant, Bella’s is as “Mom and Pop” as its gets. Valeria is Mom, and Doug is Pop. Since its opening about six months ago, diners have been eating rich comfort foods and drinking Italian wines. > Read more.
Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.
The Cultural Arts Center unveils a new exhibit – "Sizing Up!" – Nov. 20-Jan. 18 in the Gumenick Family Gallery.
Artist Chuck Larivey has spent the past three years "sizing up" – creating large-scale oil paintings that are designed to engage their viewers in a monumental way by using size to captivate them and make them a part of the artistic experience.
The exhibit is appropriate for all ages and is free and open to the public at the center, located at 2880 Mountain Road in Glen Allen. > Read more.
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