18 years and $1 million later, CCLC’s ‘Fab Five’ get a limo ride

It’s not easy to surprise five hard-working women volunteers an hour before a fundraiser. Their husbands did everything they could to keep them home long enough for the limo to arrive and chauffeur them to the Child Care and Learning Center’s summer garden party in style.

CCLC's "Fab Five" got a well-deserved limo ride.
CCLC’s “Fab Five” got a well-deserved limo ride. Alex Sharp VIII | Rappahannock News

For the last 18 years, these five women hunted antiques, solicited Caribbean beach houses and other exotic donations, polished brass, moved pianos, stacked chairs, tagged items and created fliers and advertisements for CCLC’s annual fall auction. Almost 20 years and nearly $1-million in fundraising later, the Friends of CCLC’s “Fab Five” finally got to relax.

So who are the Fab Five?

Susan McCarthy, creator of the fall auction idea when she became board vice president in 1996; Helen Williams, who 20 years ago, as board president, whipped out her personal checkbook to cover the staff on payday; Kay Miller, who for 18 years took a week of vacation to prepare for the auction; Amy Burnett, a board member for six years and board president for two, lead all graphic design efforts; and Beverly Sullivan, known as the Queen of the Silent Auction, who offered up her house for a CCLC summer fundraiser the last five years.

“This event doesn’t come together at the last minute,” said executive director Rose Ann Smythe, noting that last year marked the last auction at the Washington School. “Leading up to that was months of scavenging, begging, flea-market and auction shopping, hauling and sweating, and these women were in it for the long haul.”

After introductions and flowers, Kay Miller rose to address the crowd of about 75, sipping drinks and munching hors d’oeuvres in the shade of grand oak trees in Mary Sherman Willis’ picturesque back yard Little Eldon Farm in Woodville.

“Rose Ann, Susan and I started 20-some-odd years ago with a quilting group,” Miller said, with her husband, Hodge, smiling on nearby. “My children ended up at CCLC. My youngest was in the infants [class], he just graduated from UVa. That’s why I’m here. I believe in this program.”

CCLC board president Steph Ridder recounted her first stint on the CCLC board in 1979, when the nonprofit daycare center was called Sursum Corda at Goat Hill Farm.

“Since then, CCLC has become the only NAEYC-accredited daycare and preschool institution in our five surrounding counties; I don’t think most people realize what an important institution this Child Care and Learning Center is,” Ridder said, noting that National Association for the Education of Young Children is the oldest accrediting body in early childhood programs. It also, Ridder noted, speaks to excellence of programs, providing an outside monitoring agency to help assure and support the highest quality components of early childhood programs.

At a recent board meeting, Ridder said a liaison from the public schools described the difficulties children some in this community have passing their third grade Standards of Learning tests. The common denominator in success in the early elementary SOL was directly correlated to those who had attended preschool. Children fortunate enough to attend CCLC are meeting their benchmarks in early reading.

“One of the things we’ve done is make that opportunity available to every kid in this county, to the extent that we’ve been able to do so,” Ridder said, adding that funds raised through donations and events are used to cover day care costs for the less fortunate, and for childhood development classes for staff.

“And the public schools are now asking us to cover those kids that they will not be able to serve, because they’ll only be able to serve a very small number of the kids who need that preschool education.”

Steph Ritter (left) speaks during a presentation at CCLC’s summer garden party surrounded by fellow “Fab Five” member Kay Miller and John Bourgeois.
Steph Ritter (left) speaks during a presentation at CCLC’s summer garden party surrounded by fellow “Fab Five” member Kay Miller and John Bourgeois. Alex Sharp VIII | Rappahannock News

Smythe described the importance of active learning, and socialization with other children. “Children need to be actively manipulating materials, developing language, learning social connection — and accredited programs really reinforce and try to support the child’s right to play. Time and opportunity for creative play enhanced by caring and experienced adults is a really important part of future success in school.

“The CCLC mission is to serve a representative cross-section of our community,” Smythe said. “Rappahannock has some affluent people, some working class people and some very low income people. All the fundraising and everything we do is to help those working class people be able to access a quality program, instead of going a cheaper route, and to enable the lowest income, the ‘at-risk,’ access to a program that they couldn’t even think about.”

This year, Smythe and the board held the garden party to celebrate exceeding their goal of $142,000 in fundraising and cash donations, reaching $146,000.

“Our biggest fundraising event for the past 18 years has been our fall auction, so we wanted to recognize the ladies who made it work,” Smythe said. “All of these women are prior board members, all executive committee members, who continued to serve after their terms were fulfilled. We call this support group Friends of CCLC. Our board of directors has term limits, but our Friends are forever!”

Over the years, the fall auction has grown in local popularity, and has increased in size and effectiveness. The first auction in 1996 generated $6,200 in donations; last year’s auction generated $60,000, and the nonprofit raised $82,000 at the 2010 auction.

Just before everyone dove into the open bar and buffet, CCLC board member John Bourgeois asked everyone to raise their glasses to five unsung heroes:

“During the fall of each year, there were five husbands who wondered if their wives were ever coming home; who wondered what was for dinner, because they hadn’t even had lunch; who wondered when the phone would ring, for them to come to the Washington School and lift a thousand-pound piano donation, or fix a broken armoire, or unload a truck of treasures from an all day shopping event,” he said.

“Let’s raise our glasses to these men in the crowd who have helped to keep our Fab Five going.”