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.
With a nod to Arbor Day, Citizen seeks photos, descriptions of significant Henrico trees
Citizen Staff Reports 04/28/2015
Do you have a favorite tree in Henrico?
Do you know of a tree with an interesting story?
Do you live near an especially large, old, or otherwise unusual tree – or do you pass by one that has always intrigued you?
Arbor Day 2015 (April 24) was last week, and though the Citizen has published stories about a few special trees over the years (see sidebar) we know that our readers can lead us to more. > Read more.
Henrico's most famous tree, known as the Surrender Tree, still stood for more than a century near the intersection of Osborne Turnpike and New Market Road -- until June 2012.
It was in the shade of that tree on April 3, 1865, that Richmond mayor Joseph Mayo met Major Atherton Stevens and troops from the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry and handed over a note surrendering the city to Federal troops. Evacuation had already begun. > Read more.
The Greater Richmond ARC's annual Ladybug Wine Tasting and Silent Auction on April 11 netted $75,165 to benefit its Infant and Child Development Services (ICDS) program.
About 350 guests sampled fine West Coast wines and craft beer from Midnight Brewery at Richmond Raceway Complex's Torque Club, along with food from local eateries. Carytown Cupcakes provided dessert. > Read more.
A Henrico High School student was one of eight students from Virginia selected as a 2015 student playwright as part of the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community's 26th annual New Voices for the Theater Festival of New Works, which will be held July 10-11 at VCU.
Elaina Riddell of the Center for the Arts at Henrico HS will join the other students and bring her original one-act play to life on stage at the event. In total, 150 plays were submitted to SPARC. Riddell and the other winners will work closely with New York City-based professional playwright Bruce Ward for the event. > Read more.
In the mood for some spring shopping? Eastern Henrico FISH will hold their semi-annual yard sale this weekend – funds raised assist at-risk families in Eastern Henrico County. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will hold a spring plant sale which is among the largest in the region with more than 40 vendors selling plants ranging from well-known favorites to rare exotics. Put on your detective hat and find out “whodunnit” at the movie “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and “The Case of the Dead Flamingo Dancer,” presented by the Henrico Theatre Company May 1-17. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
It’s that time of year – charity races are popping up everywhere! On Saturday, St. Joseph’s Villa will be the site of the sixth annual CASA Superhero Run and the fifth annual Richmond Free to Breathe Run/Walk will be held in Innsbrook. Also in Innsbrook, the 2015 Richmond Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis will take place on Sunday. If you’re more into relaxation than exercise, check out Wine for Cure’s Dogwood Wine Festival or the Troubadours Community Theatre Group’s production of “West Side Story” at the Henrico Theatre. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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CalendarThe Henrico Business Leaders’ Networking Breakfast Meeting will take place from 7 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. at The Westin Richmond. The speaker will be Nicole Anderson Ellis from the Route… Full text