Housing Authority center nears completion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Bright beginnings indeed! The pre-school program that began in 1991 under the loving guidance of Martha Carter for children in the Housing Authority complexes is having yet another beginning August 17. That's when the doors of Bright Beginnings and Family Life Center's new facility opens for an Open House.

The program, which will open for children Sept. 2, offers preschool guidance for children who are at least three, but not yet in school. Of the 44 spaces available, all are filled, and there is a waiting list still growing.

"Martha Carter had the vision," said Willie S. Thomas, the Bright Beginnings director. "So many children in the complex - their parents were unable to send them to daycare or Head Start - and when they started school, they were behind."

According to Thomas, the junior class this year at Andalusia High School includes the first group of Bright Beginnings children, and so far, he said, not one of them has dropped out of school.

"They stay in the top of their class," said Thomas.

Touring the facility now, before the last spit and polish has been added, the building is bright and cheerful and ready for kids. There are four classrooms, although a severe cut in HUD funding has limited the program to two classes this year.

"We have $1,200 to operate on all year (from HUD)," said Thomas. "We've got to pay for snacks, for janitorial work, all of that."

Besides Thomas, there are two teachers and two teachers' aides on the paid staff, and volunteers are not only welcomed, they are sorely needed.

"We need volunteers to help with getting snacks, reading to the children, playground supervision, office work…" he said.

One more immediate need for volunteers is for workers to help assemble the playground equipment. Some of it is older, from the old center, and some of it is brand new, still in boxes scattered throughout the facility. All of it needs to be put together safely - and soon. Thomas hopes to get help from local churches, civic organizations and other groups for a work-day to get the job done.

The center, facing the same budget cuts many others are, has other needs.

"Computers," said Thomas. "We

have 19 computer stations in the computer room."

At the time, they only have four computers and no printers in the computer lab, although they were able to purchase a few new computers for the two classrooms they'll be using. Thomas hopes that businesses who upgrade on a regular basis will be able to donate their old units to the center. They already have two consultants, Richard Donaldson and Wayne Nikols, who are helping get the units repaired and running. The computers will be an important component in the center's future plans - to include an after school program for the area children that will provide a place, the means, and assistance to get school work completed.

"We'd also like to get some of the older residents in here and teach them how to use the computers at night," said Thomas.

He stressed that the facility was not just a preschool, but a "Family Life Center" as well. The large cafeteria area, complete with risers for school programs, a baby grand piano donated by a local citizen, and a lectern donated by First Baptist Church, will

be available for gatherings, although the rent fee has yet to be determined.

Other immediate needs the center has run the gamut from office supplies and cleaning supplies to furniture. Determined to set an example, Thomas and his wife are donating a desk and chair for the office.

"We still need a table and chairs for the conference room," he said.

Outside, the play area is already fenced in the playground equipment purchased, t but the two outdoor bathrooms are nothing more than tiled closets, with no fixtures at all. Cabinets need shelves and some rooms need cabinets. The large lawn, both front and back, will need a riding lawnmower, weedeater and leaf blower. There are at least five stumps that need to be ground out. Besides the computers, the center will also need the numerous accessories that go along with them , fro surge protectors to mouse pads.

"Brooms, dust mops, dust pans…." Thomas listed only

a few of the center's needs.

He expressed gratitude for all of the help that has come before, from the City of Andalusia to the Dixon Foundation and all those who contributed as individuals as well as businesses and civic and church groups.

Thomas is looking forward to the new school year and the new building. A long-time volunteer and occasional hired help, he jokes that he was "grandfathered in" to the role of director, but his wife, Thelma, says it is far more than that.

"We recognize our children need good role models," she said. "So few of them even see men until they get to high school."

Anyone wanting to help as a volunteer or donate funds or items can contact Willie S. Thomas at the center, 222-1685, or through the Housing Authority at 222-5871.