By Mary Margaret Halford
VICKSBURG – Almost 160 years ago, the Sisters of Mercy first laid the foundation for quality Catholic education in Vicksburg, and since then, that tradition has continued at Vicksburg Catholic School (VCS).
Today, VCS is looking to extend that tradition. Beginning in August, the school will open its doors not only to elementary and high school students, but to babies as young as six weeks old.
In October, the school launched a major fundraising effort, a capital campaign titled “Continuing the Legacy”, after realizing Vicksburg has an urgent need for more childcare options.
Vicksburg is home to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Research and Development Center, which plans to grow by hundreds of employees over the next few years – employees who will likely end up being young parents. In early 2017, officials with the research center approached VCS to discuss how their employees need more options for childcare.
“Vicksburg’s child care needs are growing and evolving as new industry moves into the area and ERDC expands by 800 new employees,” said Kristi Smith, Director of Development and Alumni Affairs at the school.
An early learning center was something that had been casually talked about at VCS for years, but after touching base with other industry and government employers across Warren County and recognizing growth trends school officials decided it was time to step up and make themselves an option for children from birth all the way through high school graduation.
Riley Nelson, president of the VCS Advisory Council, said that the new facility is not only a great addition to the Catholic community, but to the town as a whole.
“The early learning center at VCS will be a win-win for the school and the community,” Nelson said. “The center will enrich early learning opportunities in Vicksburg and surrounding communities.”
VCS is situated off Clay Street, which serves as the primary gateway to downtown Vicksburg from Interstate 20. Because the school is in an urban area, acquiring new land isn’t always an easy option. However, right around the time early discussions were happening about the childcare center, obtaining a new piece of property suddenly became possible.
Sam Scott, an alumnus, contacted school leadership about a piece of land just next to the campus that was for sale. Scott said that if the school would use it, he would buy it.
And once the land was purchased, the idea of an early learning center shifted into more than just a conversation – it grew into a tangible plan.
From there, plans were drawn up for the building and discussions about fundraising strategies began.
On October 12, VCS officially launched the capital campaign to raise the money needed to build the early learning center. With an ultimate goal of $1.2 million in mind, school officials and volunteers hit the ground running to get the message out.
The proposed center will measure at approximately 8,300 square feet, with a total of nine classrooms and space for about 100 students.
“It will be cost comparable to the other facilities in town, between $100 and $120 a week,” Smith said, adding that the hours (7 a.m. until 7 p.m.) will compare to other area childcare centers to accommodate working families.
“VCS Early Learning Center will offer a quality, Christian early childhood education,” Smith said. “VCS stands ready to be a partner in meeting the needs of our community. We believe that by answering this call, we can attract and retain young, working families in Vicksburg.”
Through the early learning center, VCS will seek to continue that tradition first set out by the Sisters of Mercy of a safe, faith-based hub for education.
“As a parent of a three-year-old child at St. Francis, it has been amazing for me to watch my child’s faith grow at such as young age,” Nelson said. “ I am extremely excited we will able to offer this to even younger children.”
For more information on how to donate to the VCS Capital Campaign, visit http://www.vicksburgcatholic.org/apps/pages/capitalcampaign.
(Mary Margaret Halford is a freelace writer and member of Vicksburg St. Paul Parish)