BERRYVILLE — In 1992, the concept of the Heritage Child Development Center on Mosby Boulevard was just that.

Kimberly Schreckengost was working at Berryville Graphics at the time and had just given birth to her daughter. She approached the president of printing company, which had about 750 employees, and asked if there was a possibility of starting a childcare facility for the workers.

"There was a need for it," said Shreckengost, who is now an early childhood special education teacher at Northwestern Regional Education Programs in Frederick County. 

The next day, she found a sticky note on her desk with a figure of $100,000 on it that said, "Here's your daycare center, get it started."

After some additional fundraising efforts, Heritage Child Development Center opened in 1997.

More than two decades later, the facility is still going strong. It serves children from six weeks to 12 years old. About 50 children are currently enrolled, though it has a capacity for 80. Most families who utilize its services are from Clarke County, but some also come from Frederick County and Jefferson County, W.Va.

Families do not need to be associated with Berryville Graphics to enroll their children at Heritage Child Development Center, which is operated by CHEERS School Family Inc. CHEERS also operates Heritage Clubhouse in Berryville and Children First Childcare Development Center in Kearneysville, W.Va.

CHEERS is a nonprofit organization that receives subsidies from the Department of Social Services to help provide tuition assistance to low-income families. About 15% of the children it serves receive some form of scholarship or tuition assistance. The nonprofit also receives occasional grant funding from the United Way, donations and childcare tuition, executive director Edwina Bell said.

On Thursday, Virginia first lady Pamela Northam visited the 5,700-square-foot Heritage Child Development Center as a part of her second "Back to School" tour around the state to promote access to preschool education.

"We have two-thirds of all parents who work outside the home now and yet it is such a struggle to find quality care," Northam told Schreckengost during her tour of the facility.

After her tour, Northam stopped by a preschool classroom to read the children a book by Cece Bell called "Bee-Wigged" about Jerry Bee, who finds making friends hard because he's an enormous bee. Before she started to read, she showed the students a real June bug and had one student volunteer to dress up as a bee.

"What kind of noise do you think —," Northam said before the children quickly replied "Bzzz!"

The students listened and chimed in with comments as Northam read about Jerry, who makes friends after he disguises himself by wearing a wig. When the wind blows away Jerry's wig, he learns it was actually a guinea pig, but his classmates still accept him.

Northam gave the class another book to read in the future, and the students gave her a bouquet of flowers and a painting made by their handprints.

Since her first "Back to School" tour last year, Virginia has secured $9.9 million in federal preschool development grants to boost the commonwealth's early childhood education efforts. Nearly $4 million will  support leaders and early childhood educators who will receive financial incentives for strengthening standards and participating in training programs. The funds also will help facilitate focus groups and surveys to gain insight from families of young children being served.

"We're just really proud of our preschool development grant, which really helps us fill the void, especially for our fragile families," Northam said.

— Contact Anna Merod at amerod@winchesterstar.com

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