WINTER GARDEN — Children’s Lighthouse, a Christian educational center for childcare and after-school programs serving infants and children up to age 12, celebrated the 10th anniversary of its launch in Winter Garden this month.
There are about 80 Children’s Lighthouse centers in the country. The franchise in Winter Garden, located at 220 Windermere Road, is owned by People of Faith Lutheran Church.
The church had a special service Sunday, Aug. 16, with songs, readings and testimonies focused on God’s love for children. Afterward, there was a birthday party for the center, complete with cake, an ice cream truck, bounce houses, balloon animals and more.
Deanna Gustafson is currently the director of Children’s Lighthouse in Winter Garden and has been there since the franchise was in its earliest planning stages 10 years ago.
“It has been a wonderful experience watching how the center has changed and grown to meet the needs of the community,” Gustafson said.
The center has been in high demand since it opened: It was almost immediately filled to capacity and some children were put on a waiting list.
“When we added the other seven classrooms to the center, it was a relief to stop saying there was no space,” Gustafson said.
In addition to Gustafson, two employees have been at Children’s Lighthouse since it opened. Shanna Wolfenden started as a teacher for the 4-year-olds and is now the assistant director. Bibi Yasin has worked with the infants all 10 years.
Gustafson has seen the center change in many ways, such as the addition of iPads in some of the classrooms, which are used for education, play and communication with parents. She also has seen her three children grow up there.
“They have grown so much from the experience of being able to add our faith to their education here,” Gustafson said. “To see them being able to sing and learn about Jesus and God’s love for us is so great.”
Her oldest son, now in high school, sometimes returns to help out with a Children’s Lighthouse music program called “Jesus Rocks.”
To supplement their experiences in the classroom, children at the center participate in a number of events throughout the year that help teach them to be generous and serve others.
For the last three years, Children’s Lighthouse has participated in Relay for Life. Its families and staff have also raised money and food for local organizations such at Matthew’s Hope, Feeding Children Everywhere, The Gift of Swimming and West Orange Christian Service Center.
There could be more changes at Children’s Lighthouse in the future, but for now, Gustafson hopes to maintain its tried and true recipe for success.
“I plan on having Children’s Lighthouse still (be) a light in our West Orange community for the families that we serve, for us to continue to provide a Christ-centered environment that is safe and of the highest quality for the children and their families,” she said.
BY THE NUMBERS
610: The number of children who have graduated since the center opened.
1,136: The number of children who have participated in the summer VBS.
4,314: The amount in pounds of canned goods the center has donated to local charities.
$40,000: The amount of money the center has raised for local charities.
Contact Catherine Sinclair at [email protected].