FAIRMONT — Sherry Kinder knew the Rising Stars facility needed some work, but in a time of pandemic, high unemployment and fear, she had resigned herself to make-do.
Kinder, the executive director of the acclaimed program, which provides Marion County elementary and middle school students with safe, friendly, innovative after-school learning and from-scratch meals, had a small list of needs that seemed too big for the all-volunteer organization’s budget to handle.
“The list wasn’t long, but they were all major factors that affected the environment inside the center,” Kinder said.
The roof was leaking. The floor beneath it was affected. The kitchen sink was too small. The space could use a dishwasher and a few gallons of paint. They needed a way to social distance the children during this time of COVID-19.
The price tag for the fixes totaled about $5,000, but the funds weren’t in their coffers. And the figure didn’t account for labor costs to fix the leaky roof, either.
Located in the former Miles Chapel at the corner of Monroe and High streets in Fairmont, Rising Stars serves children from across the socioeconomic spectrum, but often from environments deemed vulnerable. Weekdays it provides everything from tutoring in math and reading, to creative learning activities, to fun activities and nutritious snacks and meals.
Frank Jarman knew about how Rising Stars was changing lives and providing sanctuary for local children and has seen the building’s condition.
As executive director of the Marion County Family Resource Network, Jarman’s nonprofit organization’s mission statement says its purpose is “driven by a single goal, to do our part in making the world a better place for all children and families in Marion County, West Virginian.”
Sounded right up his alley.
While Kinder tended to the children, Jarman began doing his thing, which is finding ways to fund crucial programs such as Rising Stars. He made some phone calls, shook some proverbial trees, worked with local news organizations to publicly tout the needs, and tried to find the money and labor required to make the repairs and improvements.
Turns out it didn’t take long.
Two donors who asked to remain anonymous wrote significantly large checks, enough to cover nearly all of the $5,000 in costs. And a few local businesses also chipped in. Jarman secured the services of skilled volunteers to install a new sink and flooring. Church members from Trinity Assembly of God came forth to fix the roof. The Op-Shop volunteered to install social-distancing room dividers.
“When we reopen in the fall, there’s going to be a totally new look to the facility,” said Kinder. “But the end product will remain the same, which is high-quality tutoring, homework help, nutritious meals, learning activities and music.”
Kinder said she was astounded by the community’s response, especially the large donations from individuals who refused to take credit openly.
“When he told me about the anonymous donors, I had to pause because I couldn’t think straight about it,” Kinder said. “Those wonderful donors have taken a load off me to where I can now concentrate on making sure the product we give the kids is the highest quality.”
Kinder said her organization is fortunate to have a good relationship with the Marion County Family Resource Network and Jarman.
“It’s been really amazing and helpful to have someone who wants to collaborate with us. We’re a young organization, so we don’t have all the contacts and know the people who would be more than happy to help us,” Kinder said. “This summer has been extremely difficult with COVID, but we’ve still been pushing forward. The best part is knowing we’re not alone.”
Jarman modestly downplayed his organization’s role, but within a month, Rising Stars’ home was on its way to being remodeled.
“This has very little to do with us. We just had an idea. We see the great things Rising Stars is doing in our community,” Jarman said. “We simply came up with a way to help a great organization.”
Jarman said the anonymous donations were unexpected.
“Somebody saw that and said, ‘Yeah, we want to do our part and give money.’ It blows me away that we didn’t have to go out and sell pencils to get this money. Somebody saw it and wanted to be a part of this,” he said.
Jarman said he felt the timing for the improvements was important, as a potential return to school is only weeks away.
“School will be starting in September, so getting Rising Stars ready so kids can come after school and enjoy not only great food but great enrichment of their education is important,” Jarman said. “Anything that helps keep children safe and families healthy, we want to be a part of. And it’s an honor to be part of this program. What Sherry is doing is amazing.”