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Jones, Crowder putting touches on Learning & Growing Child Care Center

HUGULEY — Buffie Jones and Harlee Crowder are in the process of turning something bad into something good. 

The bad part is the closing of the Fairfax First Baptist Church Wee School. Jones had worked there for 11 years and Crowder for 8 years. They loved what they did and what the Wee School meant to parents and their young children. The Wee School closed during the shelter in place order from Gov. Kay Ivey. 

“It was a wonderful place, but as far as we know, the closing is permanent,” Jones told The Valley Times-News.

The good part is that Jones and Crowder have pooled their resources and taken a leap of faith to open their own center. They have acquired the former Salvation Army/Designs R Us building off Veterans Memorial Parkway. It’s a 5,600-square-foot building and is now undergoing some extensive remodeling. 

If all goes as planned, the building could reopen by mid-August as The Learning & Growing Child Care Center. Jones and Crowder are putting their hearts and souls into making it work. Jones is the business owner and Crowder is the director.

“We plan to open Aug. 10,” Jones said. “We will take infants to those who are 13 years of age.”

To open on time, The Learning & Growing Child Care Center will have to be licensed by the state within the next three weeks. Jones and Crowder are confident of being approved. 

“There’s a huge need for this in our community right now,” Jones said. “My mother taught me that it takes a village to raise a child. With this new center, we are doing our part in doing that.”

The new child care center plans to be open from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. ET Mondays through Fridays. 

“It’s for working parents,” Crowder said. “It’s an ideal place for both the parents who work here in the Valley and those who work out of town.”

Jones and Crowder recently acquired a transit van to transport children from local elementary schools to the child care center after school. Parents will pick them up after 6 p.m.

On Monday evening, Valley Lions Club met at the new center and were taken on a tour. 

They were impressed by the large areas that will be turned into classrooms,the large kitchen where breakfast and lunch will be prepared on a daily basis and the large indoor gym and fenced recreation area outside the center.

This past spring Jones said she spent some restless days wondering about her future with the Wee School shut down. 

“My husband told me that I should do what God wanted me to do,” she said. “Just after that Harlee texted me and told me that God wanted her to build a child care center. Here we are.”

Jones and Crowder looked at 15 different buildings before settling on the former Salvation Army site. 

“Chris Busby [who is the Director of Commercial and Community Development of the Chambers County Development Authority] helped us with it,” she said. “Chris and Denise Clark [the former owners of the building] were great to work with on it. Randall Lynn is our contractor. I can tell you that a lot of sweat equity has gone into what’s been done here so far.”

Jones said the new center will be Christian based. 

“We will have daily scripture reading and a chapel service on Wednesday mornings,” she said. “We welcome pastors to come by to tell Bible stories. We are asking everyone to pray for us over the next few weeks. We know of 118 children who need to have a daycare. The fire marshal will have the call on how many we can have. It should be between 95-125.”

Just inside the main entrance is a spacious lobby. Plans are to have a big-screen TV there. Just beyond the lobby is the infant room, which can hold up to 14 babies. 

“We probably won’t have that many to start with,” Crowder said. “We will start with 12 employees and 15 people altogether. We will be picking up children after school. Buses from W.F. Burns Middle School and Huguley Elementary School will be dropping off here. If needed, we will be picking up in Lanett, Bob-Harding Shawmut, LaFayette Lanier, Fairfax and possibly Beulah.”

Thought is being given to acquiring a second transit van if needed.

Care will be taken for the new center to be as safe as possible. There will be lots of sanitizing, the wearing of masks by adults and social distancing. A maximum of 25 children can be in the gym at one time. It’s possible to have virtual sessions there and to host special events like grandparents’ day. There’s lots of space for kids to run around in on rainy days. On the dry weather days, there’s a large fenced-in play area outside. Plans are to have a shelter where adults can be out of the sun.

“There are strict guidelines on transit vans, and we will follow them,” Jones said. “This is not just a business to me. It’s more like family. We will be serving breakfast, lunch and a snack for every child every day. We have a kitchen and a cook to do it.”

Jones said there’s been a strong sense of family in what’s gone on thus far. 

“People have donated their time and money,” she said. “Some people have come by to bring bottles of water. The community has been fantastic in its support. My 11-year-old son knows it is my fondest dream to make this happen.”

Jones credits her partner with the original building design. 

“Steve Taylor of Birmingham is our architect,” she said. “He based the final interior design on Harlee’s original floor plan. We wanted the rooms to be spacious.”

There are rooms for each age group, starting with infants and moving up to 13-year-olds.

The interior work has been proceeding at a steady pace. 

“We will have 25 workers here this week to install the sheetrock,” Jones said. “It should take them two days to do it. We started planning this at home in April and have been working here since June.”

While much of the work has been done, there’s still a lot more left to do before the center is open. Jones and Crowder said they’d like for Lions Club members to come back and see the finished product before the center opens.

They say it has been a great challenge, but that they are very pleased to be where they are. “You learn who your true friends and family members are when you do something like this,” Jones said. “We are grateful to have good ones. We’re pleased also that most of what has been done has been done locally. Almost everything that has gone into it has been purchased locally, and the work has been done by local people.”