PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — On a Prentis Park neighborhood street corner, where various social ills intersect, the Wesley Community Service Center, a former Methodist church in Portsmouth, offers a path to potential. It has a new roof, thanks in part to a 10 On Your Side story from last year.

(WAVY photo/Regina Mobley)

“The story that [WAVY] did was amazing. So many people reached out to us with money to do the work for the bell tower,” said Renyatta Banks, the center’s executive director.

(WAVY photo/Destini Harris)

But the new roof exposed new problems. When workers installed a new roof on the original building, which dates back to 1937 and the addition which dates back to 1965, the ceiling collapsed in at least two places.

The building has extensive water damage and other potential hazards.

Banks says no one was injured when shards of debris rained down on the building’s foyer.

(WAVY photo/Regina Mobley)

“It’s honestly a good thing that it all fell because now we know and see so much more work needs to be done,” Banks said.

The work, $800,000 worth, is needed to convert the neglected building into a Head Start center for 18 children. If funding, renovations, and inspections can be secured, the new Head Start would open in the fall of this year for children and parents.

(WAVY photo/Regina Mobley)

“The Head Start program is always free to children ages 2 to 5 to get them ready for kindergarten with learning skills and social skills. At the same time, parents will be coming here to utilize our food pantry our clothes closet, and other programs we have like GED prep so that they will be able to better serve their families,” Banks said.

The call for help is urgent. The pandemic-era literacy report card for Virginia reveals alarming numbers.
When it comes to phonics awareness for kindergarteners in 2019, 17.9% were at high-risk for reading difficulties, and one year later, more than 27% were at risk.

For first-graders, the numbers jumped from 18.3% to a staggering 28.5%.

The report, from the University of Virginia, also shows youngsters from underserved communities were hit hard and some youngsters may never catch up.

The Wesley Center this weekend will host a musical fundraiser and a community-wide effort to raise funds and elevate lives. Banks says the City of Portsmouth has provided a Housing and Urban Development grant for exterior repairs and the Hampton Roads Community Foundation has provided contributions to help pay for interior repairs.

“Head Start will be successful because it has no choice. We cannot fail,” said Banks.