Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

TOP STORY >> Pathfinder adds ‘one more jewel’

Leader staff writers

Joan Zumwalt, who has led Pathfinder for many years, stood before a crowd of staff, parents and notable visitors and told them it was “another red-letter day for Pathfinder.”

“We have sunshine here in the building,” Zumwalt told the crowd which had braved a cold rain to attend. The group was on hand for the dedication of the new Pathfinder Preschool in Jacksonville.

The new building, which cost $6 million to build, is tornado-proof and was built with low-interest bonds.

The 38,000-square-foot, one-story building is located adjacent to the Reynolds building, the main facility on the Pathfinder campus at 2400 W. Main St.

Pathfinder is a private, nonprofit program that has served individuals with developmental disabilities since 1971.

It opened with one person and a $12,000 budget to provide educational services to six people. Pathfinder has an annual budget of $33 million.

Zumwalt thanked the guests, who included Col. Michael Zick, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, state Reps. Mark Perry, Sandra Prater and Jane English, architect Odom Peck Architecture of Little Rock and representatives from Centennial Bank and general contractor Noacom, Inc.

Zumwalt gave the floor to a handful of the preschool’s students who sang “Good Morning to You,” and presented Gov. Mike Beebe with a poster thanking him for visiting. Each student in the group shook hands with the governor.

“When you’re on the board or work for Pathfinder, you work for Joan,” John Burkhalter, a Pathfinder board member, said. “When you’re governor you do too,” Beebe jokingly added.

“I always refer to Joan as admiral,” Beebe told the crowd after Burkhalter’s introduction.

“What we just say, with the kids, is what this is about,” the governor told the crowd. “This is why we’re here this morning.”

The governor spoke of adults who work with special-needs children, such as the staff at Pathfinders. “It is something that is truly a labor of love.” He went on to tell the group of his firm belief in what pre-kindergarten and pre-school can do.

“It all starts at the very beginning with that foundation,” Beebe said. “All of them will progress at different rates, all of them will learn at different levels. But they all deserve the competition.”

Fletcher said, “I’m so excited for Pathfinder, but it drives home how dilapidated the facilities are in our public schools. It is visual proof. It makes me mindful, but at the same time it gives me hope. We will have schools on this level in the near future.”

Alderman Reedie Ray said, “This is great for the city of Jacksonville and is great for the whole state. It helps so many people.”

Alderman Marshall Smith said, “It is fabulous. It is another lighthouse in the community. This facility can be be added to and can be expanded. The board and staff, especially Joan Zumwalt, should be commended.”

Pathfinder vice chairman Robert Ferguson spoke about the construction of the preschool. The building’s perimeter walls were built with 6-inch poured concrete. The walls were interlaced with vertical and horizontal-positioned rebar.

The roof has hurricane straps connecting to the building and the interior has special bracing.

“It can stand a near direct hit from a tornado,” Ferguson said.

“This is the most recent jewel in our crown. Pathfinder has always been an inspiration to me,”

Zumwalt told The Leader. “We won’t stop here. We’re reminded constantly of the need. The reward is what we saw with the kids (who performed).” Zumwalt has been with Pathfinder since the beginning – 38 years.

She says she’s seen many examples of what Pathfinder can do.

Col. Michael Zick, 19th Airlift Wing vice commander, and his wife Emily are Pathfinder supporters.

The couple, who are stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base for the third time, have a son with autism, who attended Pathfinder from age 3 to 5.

“This is just fantastic to see how the school has grown,” Zick said. “They were the very first on getting our son on that engagement track to getting the skills needed.”

“His pediatrician came here,” Emily said. “Everything was done here. It’s the only developmental school he attended.” Their son, now a pre-teen, attends public school.

The colonel said the facilities here “rate among the best I’ve seen.”