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Director of early learning center grateful for job she loves

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- To say Dawn Snyder enjoys her work would be an understatement.

"Every day that I come to work, I am so grateful," said Snyder, director of the Sacred Heart Early Learning Center. "I am so fortunate to be doing what I was put on this earth to do."

The center is housed inside the Sacred Heart Pavilion on the corner of Quarrier Street and Leon Sullivan Way. The building also includes a full-size gymnasium.

While the center opened Oct. 29, Snyder was on board before that. The building was still under construction when she was chosen for the position of director and given a role in completing the center. She ordered kitchen equipment, selected furniture and toys and even designed the outdoor playground.

"It was like a director's dream come true," she said.

The center is licensed by the state to provide care for 52 children age 6 weeks to 3 years. There are now 16 enrolled with a list of more to begin in January. Snyder believes building enrollment will not be a problem at the state-of-the-art facility.

"I have 12 care teachers," she said. "They are not just sitters. We are an early learning center."

Each staff member is required to have specialized West Virginia infant and toddler certification. Each must also complete the U.S. Department of Labor's apprenticeship program as a child development specialist.

"Some have bachelor's and associate degrees," she said. "My staff of 12 has over 140 years of experience."

Snyder, a native of St. Albans, has a long history of working with children.

She was living in Tennessee when her son was a toddler and she wanted to work outside the home. Working in a childcare center seemed the perfect solution. Within a year, she had worked her way into the position of assistant director.

In 1989, she moved back to West Virginia with her family when her second child was soon to be born. In 1991, her husband died in a car accident and she was left to raise a 7-year-old son and a 19-month-old daughter alone.

Her son, Jordan, is now 28 and employed at Embassy Suites. Jillian is 22 and a senior at West Virginia University studying fashion design, merchandising and business management.

For more than 14 years, Snyder served as director of Oakhurst Presbyterian Childcare Center. From there she worked briefly in the corporate world but soon realized it was not her calling. In 2009 she became an early childhood specialist for Appalachian Council Head Start and in 2011 went to work for River Valley Child Development Services.

She is a graduate of St. Albans High School and West Virginia State and has earned additional credentials in her field.

Snyder, 51, believes she has found her niche at Sacred Heart Early Learning Center.

"All experiences came together to place me here," she said. "I have no doubt this was meant to be."

The children learn through play with rooms set up and toys selected with their development in mind. There is also an emphasis on good nutrition with food and snacks prepared by Daisy Godfrey, who has 31 years of cooking experience. Meals are served family style as students eat with their teachers who talk to them about good food and health.   

"We offer continuity of care," she said. "The children stay with the same care teacher the entire time. Attachment is crucial at this age."

So teachers and children all move together to the next level, for example from the infant to the toddler room.

Snyder, who grew up in the Lutheran faith, notes that children of all faiths are welcome.

The center is open year round. Hours are 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tuition is $220 a week for infants and toddlers and $200 a week for children age 2 and 3.

For more information, call 304-414-5757.

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at or 304-348-1246.


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