Time is running out on a preschool for kids with special needs, prompting parents to launch a Facebook page to help save Helping Hand.
The children play at the same pace they always have at Helping Hand Developmental Center, but behind the scenes of the county's only private, non-profit preschool for kids with special needs, there's a sense of urgency. The center has until July to find a new home, and Speech Pathologist Margaret Evans Kvalvik is increasingly worried.
"I'm not sure why we're sort of being edged out," Kvalvik said. "What I do know is we need a space like this."
With just five months to go, parents hope to rally support and raise money through social media.
"These are parents who've reached out to us asking, 'How can we help?'" Kvalvik explained.
The center has been located at Blue Ridge Community College for two decades, but the college plans to expand student support services into the preschool's space.
According to Executive Director Susan Deans, Helping Hand also lost two classrooms at Clear Creek Elementary because of legislation to reduce classroom size. However, Helping Hand has been offered two classrooms at Edneyville Elementary.
Deans had initially hoped to find a new space of at least 5,000 square feet. Now, she says about 3,500 square feet would at least be enough to keep the operation alive. Dean hopes the county will help locate a property that will give Helping Hand new life.
One parent, Nekki Osteen, said the preschool was a godsend when her daughter with cerebral palsy was 3 years old. Osteen fears without Helping Hand, many kids will suffer.
"I guess people that don't have handicapped kids don't realize the impact," she said, impressed by how the staff embraced her daughter."She ended up graduating from East in 2016. So, if we didn't have this place, I mean, I don't know where she'd be, really."
"I don't know where we would be because I don't know what would have happened to her," Osteen added, becoming emotional. "She was just in really bad shape when she started here."
Their day-to-day mission remains the same, but for staff and parents, it's disconcerting that those days might be numbered.
"We serve the most vulnerable kids and we need a space for them," Kvalvik said.
"I hate it for the kids like my daughter that won't or may not have opportunity," Osteen said. "It just makes you wonder what's going to happen to them. Where will they go?"
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