Nick Asma stands with preschoolers and the ark he built as an Eagle Scout project in this 1998 photo. The giant oak tree was removed 6 years ago after it was destroyed in a storm. Funds are now being raised to install a sun shade.
Nick Asma’s Eagle Scout project in 1998 was constructing a 20-foot-long ark on the playground of the First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden. The wooden structure — 6 feet tall and 16 feet wide — surrounded a giant, century-old oak tree that provided shade for The Learning Center preschoolers on hot, sunny days.
In 2008, a severe storm split the tree down the middle, and church officials had the rest of the tree removed for safety reasons. Ever since, the children have had to endure the heat while enjoying the playground.
“The focal point of our playground and the epicenter of fun for our kiddos is the huge ark,” Patty Tate, preschool director, wrote in a message in the church’s newsletter. “While we do enjoy the Florida sun, too much is draining. We need to install a cover over our ark and provide relief from the heat as the children play.”
The church and preschool have embarked on a new project — one that will provide shade for the children. They are trying to raise $19,000 to purchase and install a 30- by 40-foot sail shade to cover the ark. More than $11,000 has been collected so far, and Tate is hoping another $8,000 can be raised soon so the cover can be added before late summer.
Tax-deductible contributions can be made to First United Methodist Learning Center, 125 N. Lakeview Ave., Winter Garden 34787; or on the church’s website at fumcwg.org.
The preschool offers a Mothers Morning Out program, classes for 2- and 3-year-olds and Voluntary Pre-K, and the curriculum includes art, music, story time, learning time, Kinder Gym, chapel time and playground time. The Learning Center is active in the community, participating in such events as the Winter Garden Christmas Parade, the Spring Fever in the Garden festival, the annual preschool carnival and the fall toy sale.
The school opened in 1992, and Tate has been the director for all 22 years.