Pictured above: From left to right are Morgan Norman, Dr. Zeb Talley Jr., Sheryl Agee, Che’re Martin, Joanie Petty, Marisa Womack, Nancy Hoy, Sheilah Williams, Jan Turner and TiaShauna Carter.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge (BGCBR) is able to offer an after-school care program at Clearview Early Childhood Center with help from community partners and a $10,000 Pick Up the Pace! grant from The Harvest Foundation.
“We know childcare is a primary need in our community,” said Sheryl Agee, impact officer and team leader at The Harvest Foundation. “We have to lift up our existing childcare system by addressing gaps like the need for extended hours. The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge have found an innovative way to fill a need in our community’s childcare system, and we’re happy to see the programming at Clearview Early Childcare Center grow.
Joanie Petty, executive director of BGCBR, said they were contacted by a teacher at Martinsville City Public Schools in August 2018 about a lack of enrollment in the VPI (Virginia Preschool Initiative) program at Clearview. A lack of after-school care for children 3 to 5 years old was identified as the cause. After conducting a needs assessment at Clearview, 62 families, with 75 children to serve, expressed a need for after-school care.
“What struck me at first was that no one was serving 3 and 5-year-olds for after-school care – they didn’t have anywhere to go,” Petty said. “We headed straight to the Department of Social Services because we needed to be licensed. In that process, we found the playground did not meet requirements for that age group.
The after-school program began in January with a six-month provisional license. To grow and sustain the program, Petty said they reached out to community partners to help.
“We’ve worked with BB&T, the Comcast Foundation and the Community Foundation Serving Western Virginia-Martinsville (formerly Martinsville Area Community Foundation) to leverage funds for safer, newer and age-appropriate playground equipment that will benefit kids in and after school,” she said. “We’re filling an important need in the community for quality childcare for younger children after school. And we are working with many partners to ensure that all kids, especially those who need us the most, are provided the resources to have a safe, fun, caring and productive place to go after school.”
Petty said because there are very few preschool programs in the Boys & Girls Clubs organization, they reached out to Melanie McLarty and Ruth Ann Collins of Smart Beginnings to ensure the program met state standards.
“We could not have done this project without being collaborative and creating relationships with community partners who also have a mission to provide safe, educational, and fun places for kids to go after school,” Petty added.
Sheilah Williams, director of the Clearview Early Childhood program, said the creation of the playground and outdoor classroom space at Clearview has been a true community effort.
“We’ve had one door after another opened with many community partners coming on board,” Williams said. “It warms my heart that there are so many wonderful community organizations out there that see the difference we’re making with our children. It didn’t put a burden on anyone – it was people coming to the table saying I want to help. They asked what can we do to help.”
Williams said the process didn’t happen overnight. It was a huge undertaking that her staff and so many others help bring to fruition.
“Just seeing how many classes we can have on the playground at one time now is amazing,” she said. “I cannot find the words to describe how I feel. I really want the community to know what we have. Most of this program is locally funded, and there are many localities that don’t have what we have. This shows that our city council, our school board, and our superintendent believe in having an early start for children and the importance of building that foundation. These kids are prepared for kindergarten.”
The following partners are credited with establishing the playground and outdoor learning classroom at Clearview: Boys & Girls Club of the Blue Ridge, Martinsville City Public Schools, Kiwanis Club, Department of Social Services, Comcast Corp., BB&T Bank, Hooker Furniture, Community Foundation of Southwest Virginia, The Harvest Foundation, City of Martinsville, Martinsville Sheriff’s Department, Christ Episcopal Church, Longwood University at NCI – Social Work Program, Rural King, Southern States, Burr Fox and the Eagle Scouts Program, Byron Smith, Dr. Willis and Sandra Wheless, Max Kendall Lumber Company, Lester Home Center, Karen Despot, R&J Tire, Skyline Tree Service, Hunter Moore and Boxley, Eddie Cockerham, Pam Brinegar, Jan and Tony Turner, Eric Martin, HB Martin.
The Harvest Foundation’s Pick Up the Pace! grants program is a competitive, small grants program designed to engage people and organizations in sparking innovative ideas, collaborations and change in Martinsville and Henry County. These six-month grants for up to $10,000 are available for application year-round. To find out more, visit www.theharvestfoundation.org or call (276) 632-3329.