By Roxie Beebe-Center and Ava Genho
Special to the Rappahannock News
“Two things cannot be in one place. Where you tend a rose… a thistle cannot grow.”
— The Secret Garden.
Just as Mary tended the roses in her garden, The Child Care and Learning Center (CCLC) nurtures its children, the future of Rappahannock. They help raise kids into inquisitive, intelligent, flourishing people. But, that takes time. And money. From that need comes the Annual CCLC Garden Party.
On Saturday evening, as the sun nestles itself between the hilltops, guests gather, perusing auction items with glasses of gazpacho clutched in their hands. Planters painted by eager artists of the CCLC Pre-K Class, wine tastings, and Egyptian cotton sheets are among the donations being sold. The constant hum of conversation fills the air at Mount Prospect, the home of Dee and Chuck Akre.
This is the second year they’ve hosted the event. “We’ve all been parents, had small children and know what it’s like to take care and have good schools for them,” Dee Akre explains. “That’s one of the reasons my husband and I offered our home for the second time.”
CCLC uses the proceeds from the event to provide scholarships to children. And that money is needed now more than ever. Following the announcement that Head Start would no longer be funded in Rappahannock County, CCLC, in collaboration with community partners such as RCES and Headwaters, stepped up to provide preschool classes for 24 children left without school options after funding ended.
Preschool is important in many ways. “There has been some pretty sound evidence that Headstart provides a very strong foundation for kids,” says CCLC executive director Lisa Paine-Wells. “That foundation carries them not just through kindergarten but through their academic career.”
In addition, community member Bill Dant believes, “CCLC is the one resource [in our county] that young children can begin to be in a formal, or informal, out-of-home learning environment,” while allowing parents to work.
However, new children from Head Start is not the only change with CCLC this year. They’ve also welcomed a new executive director, Paine-Wells, who enthusiastically endorses a new nature-based program called Children in Nature. “There’s not a curricula per se. It’s really about getting kids outside, getting them to explore, and developing their curiosity in the natural world,” she says.
In a rural community such as Rappahannock, because aftercare options are scarce, organizations like CCLC become that much more important. For most families, full time nannies are not an option. In order to hold down a job, parents need a place to send their kids. CCLC is that place. With fun programs, games and stimulating activities, it’s a reliable, educational home away from home.
“I will say that CCLC has been just a huge gift to [our son] and our family, for a lot of reasons. But he’s made some really wonderful friends there,” says one mom. She notes that her son is experiencing a childhood similar to her own with experiences like playing in the woods with sticks, making forts, and taking care of chickens, even though she sometimes isn’t able to be there with him.
The Secret Garden was an appropriate theme, she added, noting that her child’s story was similar to that at the core of the book. “I think my son was a sick little boy and I think that he found friendship there,” says the CCLC mom.
Clearly, the kids agree. Says Kai Smith, a student in the CCLC afterschool program, “CCLC feels like a family. I like it and everybody loves me. And I have Star Wars toys there.”
We all need a good frolic in the Rappahannock woods, a recap course in finger painting, and a story read to us from time to time, just like the children at CCLC. Who knows, maybe The Secret Garden will appear in a future storytime.
Just as Mary’s secret garden bloomed after being unlocked by a hidden key, the children of Rappahannock bloom as CCLC cares for, teaches, and helps them reach their full potential.