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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.

Community Cooperation
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.

Contact Patty Kruszewski at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

A new meaning for fried chicken

Is it heresy to say – in this bastion-of-tradition capital of the Old South – that it's time for Southern fried chicken to take a step back and make way for a new fried chicken king?

Count me among the new believers bowing to Bonchon Chicken's delectable double-fried bliss. Hand-brushed with signature garlic soy or hot sauce, flash-fried once and then again, the decadent drums and wings take "crisp" to a new level. If you're eating with a crowd and everyone bites in at once, be warned: you might need ear plugs to handle the din. > Read more.

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