Learning from the bottom up
To a casual passerby, the Patrick Henry Memorial Library in the little town of Brookneal might look like an ordinary run-ofthe-mill library, but a closer inspection reveals something even more magical and exciting happening. Beneath the stacks of books and quiet, carpeted halls, the library’s basement is home to The Learning Den, a fully licensed, after-school, childcare facility.
The venture, which opened in March 2018, is the long-time dream of Dana Elder, whose background in elementary education, including three years of teaching in public schools, left her eager for a tangible way to make a difference in the lives of children.
“I truly believe with all my heart in learning through play,” says Dana. “At the Learning Den, there’s the flexibility to do that. The kids are having so much fun that they don’t even realize they’re learning. Plus I saw a huge need for a licensed childcare facility in this area,” she adds.
Receiving approval by the county board of supervisors and navigating the complexities of the situation were challenging. Fortunately, “a friend upstairs” at the library told Dana about the SBDC in Lynchburg. “I didn’t even know it existed,” she laughs. “And now I’ve met with Stephanie multiple times,” referring to SBDC’s director and business analyst Stephanie Keener. “She has a vast knowledge of business, and her resources are extensive.”
Currently, The Learning Den enrolls 12 children between the ages of five and ten, with a new program for 3- and 4-year olds opening in the summer.
Dana is also proud of her dedicated staff of five part-time employees. Through their work, some have found their calling to become teachers, something that deeply moves Dana.
“When I hear about a child who used to drag his feet getting out of bed to go to school but is now excited and eager to face his day, or one whose report card has improved because we are taking time to sit and do homework each day, I know we’re making a difference. That’s the only thing that matters to me.”
This bright, bubbly haven, tucked away in the library basement, has never been about making a million dollars. It’s always been about so much more, and Dana is grateful for the help the SBDC helping to make her dream a reality.