East Wake Education Foundation celebrates milestone

CorrespondentMay 28, 2013 

  • If you’re going

    What: 20th anniversary open house

    When: 5-8 p.m. Thursday, May 30

    Where: East Wake Education Foundation, 16 E. Fourth St., Wendell

    Menu: hors d’oeuvres courtesy of Rey’s Restaurant, Cary

— You’ll often find Wacky Wednesday or Thumping Thursday being celebrated at 16 E. Fourth St., but this week will bring a special Thursday event.

That’s when the East Wake Education Foundation will celebrate its 20 years of helping Eastern Wake County children from birth to age 5. Kids from all income levels play and learn alongside parents, grandparents and other caregivers, acquiring the reading and social skills they need to succeed at grade level when they enter school.

Many current and past families are expected to drop by the open house 5-8 p.m. Thursday. Anyone is welcome, executive director Linda Johnson said Tuesday night.

“We’ve got a great big invitation for our families because we expect our families to come with our children. That’s what we’re all about,” said Johnson, who cheers on the children with the rest of the three-person staff: child development specialist Shannon Speller and administrative assistant Shannon White.

A social worker, educator and former Wake County school board member, Johnson helped start the organization 20 years ago to raise funds for public school resources. Schools soon asked that the foundation teach the skills many kids lacked.

“Linda is an amazing woman,” said Harold Broadwell, a longtime board member and a former Wendell mayor. “She has boundless energy and just endless enthusiasm for education and early childhood education.”

The foundation is not a daycare center. Instead, adults are required to participate with the groups of around 10 children. All services are free, and Spanish-speaking adults are tutored, too. Mondays through Thursdays, families of all income levels learn how to provide one-on-one attention to help kids learn, said Wendell resident John Broadfoot, who saw a note about the activities in the Eastern Wake News about three years ago.

One morning, his wife, Marla, a science writer, was working, and child care fell through, so he took their two girls – Marilyn, now 7, and Viola, 5 – to the foundation on a “Wacky Wednesday,” a busy morning of crafts and storytime.

“What I like about it is the education foundation gives kids a place to learn how to play and learn how to use their imaginations,” said Broadfoot, a certified public accountant who has joined the board of directors. “Sometimes I think kids today have that part of their brain shut down by TV, by the computer.”

Wake County provides some financial support, but the majority comes piecemeal from businesses, towns and individuals, along with fundraisers such as the Stars in the East talent show and the group’s Golf Ball Drop, which takes place during the Wendell Harvest Festival. The economy has been tough, but the organization bought its 20,000-square-foot building in 2011 using a grant from the county and a bank loan.

“When I first came on board, we had more in terms of contract funding associated with Smart Start,” said Broadwell, a Wendell attorney who over the past decade has been a board member and spent five years as president. “… We have had to grow into more of a self-sustaining small business.”

On Thursday, the foundation, its supporters and some of the nearly 20,000 kids who have benefited will celebrate their successes.

Boggess: teri.boggess@gmail.com

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