Henrico County VA
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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

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

New Italian restaurant opens in Short Pump

Charlottesville's Bella’s Restaurant recently opened a location in Short Pump Village, at 11408 West Broad Street. The restaurant is owned by Valeria Biesnti, a native of Rome who arrived in the U.S. at age 21 and later became a U.S. citizen. With her restaurants, Bisenti has sought to create an ambiance that welcomes diners in a casual setting, like her favorites from her hometown. > Read more.

Henrico native to appear on Travel Channel show


A Henrico native will appear on the third episode of the Travel Channel's new grilling competition series “American Grilled.”

The episode, filmed in Charlottesville, will premier July 16 at 9 p.m. and feature Glen Allen-native Rex Holmes, a patent lawyer who operates http://SavoryReviews.com a blo,g centered around tasty recipes and BBQ.

The show features hardcore grilling enthusiasts from across the country going head-to-head for a chance to compete for a $10,000 cash prize and bragging rights when they are crowned the ultimate “grill master.” > Read more.

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Innsbrook After Hours will present the Under the Sun Tour at 6 p.m. at the Snagajob Innsbrook Pavilion. Blues Traveler, Smashmouth, Sugar Ray and Uncle Kracker are performing. Gates open… Full text

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