WENDELL — Camden Mason could barely contain his glee.
The 5-year-old boy won a canvas lunchbag adorned with the Duke Blue Devil insignia in a drawing at the 20th anniversary celebration of the East Wake Education Foundation. Mason, along with his 3-year-old brother, Evan, and his mom Staci.
The trio sat at a table where Camden, crayon in hand, helped decorate a large banner with a happy birthday message for the Foundation he visits to get ready for kindergarten. In the fall, he’ll start classes at East Wake Academy.
In another part of the room a small group of children were reaching skyward, trying to grab the strings tied to helium balloons that had floated to the ceiling. As their parents helped them retrieve the errant ballons they chatted with Education Foundation staffers who, just minutes before had been showing off the place.
In the back of the building, surrounding a table of food prepared by Rey’s Restaurant, another crowd of people dawdled, cooing over the food and enjoying a visit.
All those people turned out Thursday night to celebrate a milestone anniversary for an organization that, through highs and lows, has managed to keep its doors open and stay true to its mission of helping young children prepare to start school.
Founding in 1993 by a former Wake County school board member, the Foundation has grown and shrunken over the years, at one time serving as the administrative unit for the Wake County Smart Start program.
Now the leaders of the organization work hard to cultivate relationships with area businesses and, often, according to board member Harold Broadwell, a visit to the center on Fourth Street in Wendell is enough to convince business people to throw their support behind the effort.
On Thursday, he recounted a recent visit by two area real estate developers who work on projects in Knightdale. They visited the facility and when they left, each of them had pledged $5,000 donations.
That’s the kind of support that leads Broadwell and agency founder Linda Johnson to be optimistic about the organization’s future.
Recently, the Foundation, thanks in part to a grant from the county, was able to purchase the facility it works in across from the Wendell Town Hall. That gave the organization more space (it was only operating in a portion of the building) and it gives the leadership an opportunity to redesign the interior of the building to make it more functional.
The money, though, is only a means to an end.
The Education Foundation has, throughout its existence, been a resource for all the region’s children. Contrary to popular belief, the center is not just for low-income families who need help. Children from all financial and social demographics take part in activities at the center.
In recent years, the Education Foundation has expanded their service to help parents become better teachers for their own children.
And, on Thursday, that’s exactly what was happening. As Camden Mason sat on one side of the table decorating the birthday banner, his brother Evan, stood beside their mother, Staci Mason, getting help with his own banner artwork.
That’s just the kind of interaction people like Linda Johnson hoped for 20 years ago when they first hatched the idea of a local support system for young children.