Gift is designed to boost the quality of child care

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Ben and Betty Davenport are known for their philanthropy and interest
in education. Photo courtesy Chatham Star Tribune

A $1 million gift from a Chatham couple aims to improve the quality of child care in Southern and Southwest Virginia.

The gift from Ben and Betty Davenport will establish the Davenport Institute for Early Childhood Development. It will partner with four of Virginia’s community colleges — Danville, Patrick Henry, Virginia Western and New River — in improving the education of child-care workers.

The Davenports are known for their philanthropy and interest in education. Ben, the chairman of Davenport Energy and First Piedmont Corp. in Chatham, is director emeritus of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and a former rector of the Virginia Tech board of visitors. Betty has served on the board of Smart Beginnings Danville/Pittsylvania, a Virginia Early Childhood Foundation program focused on improving children’s health and school readiness.

Under the Davenport Institute arrangement, the community colleges will work closely with support organizations such as Smart Beginnings and Virginia Quality, the commonwealth’s voluntary quality rating and improvement system. 

“Virginia doesn’t have any requirements to get into the field of early childhood education,” says Megan Healy, assistant vice chancellor for academics and partnerships at the Virginia Community College System. “The field has a low-paying workforce, and people don’t move up in early childhood education.”

In addition to training, the institute will offer coaching, professional development opportunities and a fellows program that provides selected students — many on the center-director level — with financial incentives, service opportunities and leadership experiences. “We want them to be regular and local advocates of the program,” Healy says. “Our first set of fellows should finish their program in 2018.”

The institute will begin in January. Students who complete 16 required credit courses in a year will receive a career-studies certificate. Fellows must complete a two-year program to receive associate degrees.

Part of the Davenport gift will be used for outreach for faith-based and home-based child-care centers, many of which are not registered with the commonwealth’s social services agency. “We want to use the community college system to provide better professional development and education opportunities for those providers as well,” Healy says.

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