Day care plans to double as community center, asks for help
Bo Harris has 21,000 square feet of space on Main Street that is used only nine hours a day. He would like to see it also used in the evenings and on weekends for the benefit of his community, especially its children.
The building at 41 N. Main St. is home to the Clark County Child Development Center, open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
After hours, Harris and his wife, Elizabeth, would like to see the day care double as a community center — something they and others believe Winchester needs.
That has been part of the couple’s plan for the old Belk department store building near Washington Street for the past two or three years. But last week, Harris began promoting the idea on Facebook and invited people to come and share their ideas for what that could look like.
Thursday evening, about 25 came and gathered on the sidewalk in front of the day care to hear what Harris wanted to do, ask questions and offer suggestions.
The crowd included young parents, children, educators, a health care worker, a theater company owner, the Chamber of Commerce director, a city councilwoman and others who came to talk about what Winchester’s youth need.
The Harrises’ dream of having a day care has come true, and now they were ready for the next stage and want others to be part of it.
They haven’t yet decided whether the community center would be a private business or a nonprofit. They’re exploring their options and considering the benefits.
“I have the space. I need your expertise,” Harris told the crowd.
The building already has a full-court gym for basketball, a media room for showing movies, a technology room, a kitchen, 17 classrooms, a tumbling room and a rock climbing wall.
What he needs, he said, are volunteers, donors, sponsors and a financial board.
Harris, a father of four children and four foster children, is a youth basketball coach and can teach kids about athletics and sportsmanship. What he wants is people who can teach them other things.
“We want to make it a safe haven,” he said. “We can come here and learn and also have fun.”
One of the first questions was how the community center could benefit children who are learning remotely from home while schools are closed because of the coronavirus. Harris said it could be a WiFi hotspot, and students could work on computers at tables outside.
Daniel Correll, a second-grade teacher at Strode Station Elementary School, said the space could help students with distance learning.
There would be things to figure out through “trial and error,” he said, but it could benefit them, especially because it’s downtown, where it can help those who “don’t have as much access to things.”
“I think if there’s a lot of community buy-in, that would definitely help,” he said.
Taylor Cain, a fourth-grade teacher at Strode, also thought the location was an advantage.
“There really isn’t a place for kids around here to just hang out,” Cain said. “This is a place kids could walk to if they needed to, and I think it’s great for kids that don’t have other things available.”
She said the center could offer cooking classes, film classes, gymnastics and other activities.
Her friend, Sarah Omohundro, a hospital medical assistant, said the center could be good for childrens’ emotional and physical well-being.
“If they’re home every day, all day long, by themselves doing online school … they can come to places like this where they can run and play, and there are other kids,” she said. “I think it’s overall better for their mental health, and there’s the added aspect of being able to move instead of being sedentary.”
Kelly Estes, owner of the Winchester Players theater company, could see herself offering plays for children’s entertainment and teaching them about acting.
Not all kids are into sports, but they can learn to cook or do other things, she noted.
Estes is interested in giving shy kids an opportunity to come “out of their shells” and have “a place where they can be themselves and have a great time.”
Grayson Grout said he would like for there to be a “gaming club” for kids like him.
His parents, Jason and Magen, mentioned the possibility of a self-defense class.
Christopher Benavides, who works for Laura’s Mercantile as quality assurance manager, is interested in anything that will improve downtown.
His daughter, Cassidy, said Winchester needs more places for kids to just “hang out and be themselves.”
“It’s really awesome to hear Bo talk about this, because I think it lights a fire under people to be creative and get more involved,” Christopher Benavides said.
The center could have a reading room, a technology room, ping pong tables, baking classes, whatever kids and youths want, he suggested.
“There’s a lot of things it can be, and that’s great,” Benavides said. “This is like a blank canvas.”