By Kara Witherow, Editor
For years, Janibeth Outlaw knew that Wrightsville needed a church-based preschool.
It became a pressing reality, though, when she had to drive to Sandersville to take her oldest son, Judson, now 4, to preschool.
Spending hours in the car wasn’t ideal for either of them, and they weren’t the only ones doing all that driving.
Residents of Wrightsville, a small community of about 2,200 people, had to drive nearly 30 miles to Dublin, Sandersville, or Swainsboro if they wanted their children enrolled in a half-day preschool program.
While Wrightsville and Johnson County have daycare facilities and the school system offers pre-K and Head Start programs, before this August there were no faith based preschool programs available to families.
After conversations with Wrightsville United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Kirk Hagan, in February Outlaw, a member of the church and a “type-A super doer,” presented the idea of a church preschool to Wrightsville First UMC’s church council.
“I saw so many families in that same situation and thought, if our community needs this, why don’t we do something about it?” she asked.
Two weeks later the church council met again and voted unanimously to charter and open Wrightsville UMC’s preschool.
“When we started talking about it, I immediately said there is a need in our community,” Rev. Hagan said. “The more I thought about it the more I realized how perfect it was and how it is the right fit for us. We have building space, we have willing people, we have a little bit of money, and we have a need. When you see God moving, jump on it.”
On Monday, Aug. 8, 22 children walked into Wrightsville First UMC’s preschool for the first time, met their teachers, and settled in for a day of learning and fun.
Outlaw, a stay-at-home mom of three who taught for nine years, serves as the preschool’s volunteer director. Her sons, Judson, 4, and Jace, 3, attend, and Outlaw echoes the sentiments felt by many parents.
“(Judson and Jace) love having something close to us,” she said. “We can have more time together and less time on the road.”
Less than five months after the church council approved the idea, the preschool now serves 20 families. Of them, only a handful are active members of the church. The preschool exists to serve a need within the community, not to grow the membership roster, Rev. Hagan said.
“I heard someone say recently that if you’re not addressing needs in the community your church is never going to make a difference,” Rev. Hagan said. “One of the needs in our community is quality educational opportunities, and we wanted to know how we could start to help make a difference. Well, we have the four things you need: money, space, willingness, and a need. So we asked how we could apply those to meet the need.”