Community rallies around child development center after theft

Published 7:27 pm Friday, January 18, 2019

The recent theft of traffic barriers that protected children with special needs at Wilderness Trace Child Development Center inspired a community of caring people to rally around the school and quickly solve its problem.

Early last week, Wilderness Trace reported that six, large, bright orange vinyl traffic barriers had been stolen from school property. The barriers were used to guide and protect young students with special needs, such as autism and those in wheelchairs, to safely go to and from vehicles and school buses at the school.

The day after the theft became public, the Kiwanis Club of Danville and several other individuals contacted Wilderness Trace, interested in making donations and arrangements to replace the safety barriers.

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During the Kiwanis Club’s board meeting on Jan. 10, board member Mark Cross made a motion for the club to allocate $1,000 to replace the barriers, said Kathy McBee, chair of the club’s public relations committee. Within seconds, the motion passed unanimously, she said.

As the check was being written to Wilderness Trace, McBee called the school’s executive director, Libby Suttles, to inform her of the club’s donation.

“Libby was just as ecstatic to receive the news as we were to deliver it,” Kiwanis President Robert Cunningham said.

Because the club has received more community support and increased membership over the past few years, it had the funding available “for an emergency such as has been experienced by a facility that provides such incredible and much needed services to children and families in our community,” Cunningham said.

McBee said, “Our service club has been a community partner with Wilderness Trace Child Development Center for many years and our board of directors just recently budgeted to foster our commitment further by adopting a classroom. … When we became aware of the theft of the traffic barriers that are so crucial to protect the most vulnerable children on campus, we knew that we had to up our game to serve this immediate need.”

More financial support was also on the way for Wilderness Trace.

McBee said an anonymous donor also called the school and pledged to match the Kiwanis’ $1,000 donation, and add more funding in order to install permanent barriers.

Jeff Johnson, a local pediatric dentist also informed Wilderness Trace that he had ordered portable traffic barriers for the school to use until a permanent solution was found.

And this week, Wilderness Trace board member David Bennett, who is general manager of Cumberland Machinery Movers and Industrial Services, located in Lancaster, told the school the company would purchase the materials, construct, powder coat and install permanent steel mesh barriers as soon as possible.

The steel barriers will not only keep children safely confined while getting in and out of vehicles at the school, they will also provide protection in case a vehicle should swerve into the rails.

“The heart of our company is ministry,” Bennett said. “We believe we’re to be our brother’s keeper, especially children.”

Cumberland Machinery Movers millwrights may not be familiar to many people in the area. It specializes in custom fabrication and machining, welding, pipefitting and moving and setting up industrial enterprises. For example, Cumberland Movers set up all of the factory equipment when Caterpillar moved to Boyle County, then disassembled and moved it again when Caterpillar left, Bennett said.

Bennett said Steve and Susie Ping started the company several years ago. “Their heart was to help the families of their workers” and others in their community, Bennett said.

Steve Ping unexpectedly died in 2012, and his wife Susie is now running the company, Bennett said. The company has also formed the “Keepin’ it Movin’ Steve Ping” non-profit organization,  which continues to step in and help communities when there’s a big need.

“It’s the heart of who we are,” Bennett said. Even though the company has a very busy schedule, pitching in to help the community is important to Bennett and the Keepin’ it Movin’ organization. “What makes it easy is if it’s in your heart, you make it work.”

“It was a really terrible thing that happened to us,” Suttles said. But after learning how people stepped up to help the center, “I am so grateful for the people who have responded with immediacy and provided resources.”

Assistant director at WTCDC Tonia Darnell agreed. “We are very, very grateful. … It’s just wonderful. It’s overwhelming.”