The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

February 5, 2012

Friends R Fun gives kids skills to cope with life

Friends R Fun Child Development Center in Summersville had a humble beginning 25 years ago in a basement room with toys brought from volunteers’ homes or donated by the community.

But as Director Judy Olson points out, they wanted to help Nicholas County by fulfilling a need and making a difference in their community. With no child care centers in the county at all before they opened in 1986, they certainly have filled a void.

Friends R Fun grew from eight children being cared for by volunteers from the Summersville Seventh Day Adventist Church, to a busy center with around 240 children enrolled and more than 30 full-time employees, she said.

From the first day they opened, Friends R Fun was licensed by the state — one of only seven listed in the state at that time.

The child care center is also proud to be nationally accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which makes them a cut above other centers, Olson explained.

Today Friends R Fun provides affordable child care for children between the ages of 6 weeks and 12 years.

They provide after-school and summer activities for school-age children.

In collaboration with the Nicholas County Board of Education, the center offers pre-K education.

They accept full- and part-time enrollment and, as a nonprofit organization, strive to provide child care at an affordable rate for parents.

“Our bottom line is that we want to provide a safe, loving and learning environment for children. For parents who are able to pay, we try not to charge a penny more than we have to. Our goal is to be a service to our parents,” she said.

Some students enrolled are assisted through DHHR, but many don’t qualify for state assistance but would not be able to afford child care at cost.

Olson explained that individual contributions and some United Way funds provide tuition supplement for many children of working parents or whose parents are going back to school.

“For a lot of our parents, life has hit them really hard and they just need a little help,” Olson said.

Most United Way funds go toward new equipment and educational tools for teachers and students to use in the classroom, she said.

Friends R Fun is a nondenominational, Christian center.

Olson said that the children may be exposed to Bible stories and learn but they do not teach a church doctrine.

“Our education philosophy is built on the fact that the first seven years of a child’s life are formative. We are interested in more than making sure that a child can learn their numbers, colors and shapes and be ready for kindergarten. Another goal is to give them the social and emotional attention they need to cope with life and take care of conflict — character development,” she explained.

Olson pointed out that Friends R Fun focuses on the importance of physical activity and being able to provide help with homework and special field trips for school-aged kids.

Beyond providing affordable child care, Olson said Friends R Fun strives to hire the best individuals to work with the children.

“It’s probably the most important job I have as director. I figure if I find people with the right character attributes — the gift of working with children — I can train them in any other knowledge they need,” she said.

All employees are encouraged to take a two-year state training program to become a Child Development Specialist through the Department of Labor.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com

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