Coal Pit Learning Center serves children in the Francistown area of Hernrico County.
A Preschool's Best Friend Innsbrook Rotary Club's anniversary project expands the Coal Pit Learning Center
With unabashed glee, Dorothy Gallimore shows off her airy office and the adult bathroom at the Coal Pit Learning Center. Before renovations were completed last year, a desk in a closet served as her work space and she used a lavatory designed for children.
In her 36th year at the school — including 18 as its director — Gallimore says the modernized and expanded space would not be possible without the help of the Rotary Club of Innsbrook and its partners.
"They are like a star in heaven," says Gallimore, whose eyes dance with a vigor that belies her 67 years and fuels her 12-hour days. "I couldn't do it without them. I love the Rotary Club; they support me."
More than 800 children have received academic and social instruction at her preschool to help them succeed academically. The expanded space, now wheelchair accessible, includes a kitchen and laundry facilities where youngsters can learn life skills.
"My knees are caving in because I held so many children on them," says Gallimore, a source of hope for the mostly low-income children enrolled in the preschool and after-care programs.
Trained as a social worker, she started the preschool to respond to the needs of families in the Francistown area of Henrico County. Daycare is provided from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and costs $50 to $70 per week. Preschool tuition, which is based on income, ranges from $10 to $25 per week.
On a pleasant spring morning, Jolly Lyons, a volunteer for 20 years, sat at the donated baby grand piano in the new wing named after her sister, Dorothy Gallimore. Lyons, owner of Debbie's Foundations & Apparel, led the children in a high-energy song.
"Clap your hands, touch your toes, turn around and touch your nose," the children sang with gusto. If a camcorder had captured the youngsters' exuberance, it may have gone viral.
The school's dynamic and nurturing environment and Gallimore's ease with children impressed Rachel Morrell the day she walked in, with lunch for the youngsters, and saw them styling Gallimore's hair.
"It struck me as a loving environment and I was [impressed] with how approachable the director is with the children," says Morrell, who joined the staff as a teacher last year.
The school attracts dozens of volunteers, who assist in a variety of ways, from bringing meals and buying Christmas gifts to writing grants.
"We get no government funds because we talk about the Lord here," says Gallimore, who is quick to share lessons gleaned from her Catholic upbringing with the boys and girls and their families.
The struggles of single mothers resonate with Gallimore, who raised two children on her own after her young marriage collapsed. "I've walked the walk," she says. "I put myself through college on a MasterCard. I bought my first car and house. I tell these ladies, ‘You can do it.' There's a lot more help today."
In addition to Lyons, other family members lend Gallimore a hand. Maria Washington, Gallimore's daughter, is a part-time teacher's aide. Gallimore's grandson, Hayden Washington, an 11-year-old student at St. Bridget School, spent his spring break in April volunteering. "I kind of help direct little kids to do things they are supposed to do," he says.
Henrico resident Carolyn Robinson, who has two grandchildren at the school, says the center is a fantastic place with wonderful and caring teachers. "I will cry next year when my grandchildren leave," she says.
Gallimore also tears up at the thought of another farewell. "These kids are adorable," she says. "They get into your heart."