POWHATAN – The love grandparents bear for their grandchildren was celebrated in all aspects during a recent dedication and celebration held at Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Catholic School.
On Friday, Sept. 13, the school combined its annual Grandparents Day program with a special ceremony dedicating a new playground facility on the campus, the latest of many improvement projects made possible by Keith and Kathleen Brower. The couple, who are from Midlothian, has donated more than $1 million for renovations and upgrades to the school in honor of their late granddaughter, Arabella Stuart Brower.
Arabella attended Blessed Sacrament for her eighth, ninth and 10th grade years. She died unexpectedly of an undiagnosed heart condition in September 2015 at the age of 17. She was part of the Class of 2016.
The dedication of the playground, which is called FlutterFly Park, was attended by hundreds of people, including all the school’s students and staff members and about 300 visitors, ranging from alumni and former parents to current parents and grandparents, said Paula Ledbetter, BSH’s head of school.
They listened to remarks from the Rev. Barry Knestout, bishop of the Diocese of Richmond; the Browers; Ledbetter; Kelly Lazarra, superintendent of Diocesan Catholic Schools, and Shaw Forward and Jessica Johnson, two students who receive Arabella Brower Memorial Scholarships to cover their tuition.
Knestout blessed the playground before a ribbon cutting and a performance by students in junior kindergarten through fifth grade singing “God is Great.”
“It is with great appreciation and fitting after last Sunday’s recognition of National Grandparents Day, we acknowledge the generosity of Keith and Kathleen Brower,” Knestout said. “Through their generous spirit, not only do we remember their granddaughter, Arabella, but through their actions, more young girls will benefit from a Catholic school education offered at the school their granddaughter, Arabella, loved so much. The Browers’ gift benefits all of the children as it addresses various needs at the school. Such generosity can only inspire a deep sense of gratitude from myself in their recognition of the value of this Catholic education at Blessed Sacrament Huguenot.”
The dedication ceremony was truly representative of the type of family that Blessed Sacrament always strives to be, Ledbetter said.
“It doesn’t matter how long someone is here or how short someone is here. Once you are a part of the BSH family you always are. It is very special the way this community comes together and supports each other,” she said.
The new playground was named FlutterFly Park as a nod to a memory Kathleen Brower had of her granddaughter as a little girl. She saw a balloon with a butterfly on it and said, “Look Grandma, a flutterfly,” Kathleen Brower recalled. The little girl said that was what she wanted to be when she grew up.
With that story in mind, the senior Class of 2016 painted the senior rock with “Be a Flutterfly.” The park is dedicated to the Class of 2016, whose students reached out to Arabella’s family, and were a great comfort for the Browers after they lost their granddaughter, Kathleen Brower said.
“She was our granddaughter. I think that says it all. She died at 17 very suddenly. She went to bed and didn’t wake up. It was a tragedy. I think when you die at 17, the people who are surviving you, it brings them right to their knees. That was a critical juncture in our lives,” she said. “I think putting our arms around the school, around our scholarship girls, around the children at the school has just shown us that you can work your way not out of tragedy because the tragedy will always be there. But you can grow and learn and make a difference in the world, and that helps hugely.”
The couple’s desire to show their appreciation for that love and kindness brought them back to BSH to give back to it, starting with individual scholarships but growing and growing as they saw the school’s long list of needs. Kathleen Brower called this chain reaction of events the “Flutterfly Effect.”
“The Butterfly Effect is where a butterfly flaps its wings and chaos can be created millions of miles away,” she said. “The Flutterfly Effect has been what we have done at the school. It just grew and grew out of the one thought that when our granddaughter died, a light went out and we wanted to turn it back on. And when we went to the school, we felt like that was the place to do it.”
While the playground is the splashiest and definitely a favorite among the school’s younger children, it is actually one of 27 separate projects that have taken place at BSH since May, Keith Brower said. The school campus was upgraded with new servers and wireless access points. A multi-year Chromebook acquisition process began in the 2019-2020 academic year with more than 60 students receiving Chromebooks for digital learning. Smartboards are being installed in kindergarten to grade five classrooms. The school’s website and logo are also being revamped. All of the school’s windows, which dated from the 1960s, were replaced and adorned with new shades.
There are still more projects the Browers hope an come to fruition at the school, not only with their support but with the BSH family and the community at large rallying to support the school, he said. One big goal is to renovate the old gym into a science and art center, but it will take a significant amount of money.
Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year and for the next three years, the Browers have set up a matching challenge. They will match dollar-for-dollar up to $150,000 a year for all parent, grandparent, alumni, business and foundation grants above an aggregate total of $75,000 per year.
“There is still so much to do, and as my wife said at a faculty meeting that we talked to, ‘They were doing wonderful things with the ordinary; just think of what we can do there with a miracle,’” he said.
Facilities renovations have always been a critical need at BSH, and watching the older exterior be replaced by a fresher look for the students has been wonderful, Ledbetter said.
“Those of us who are here know the magic that happens within these walls, but we wanted the outside to match what happens in the classrooms,” she said.
After the dedication, the Browers visited the classroom of their nephew, Davison Chapman, who is a freshman. His English class was taking a test and they stood to the side and watched. After the test, the students got up to greet their visitors, which was a nice moment as well, Kathleen Brower said.
Family is such an important part of what Blessed Sacrament is as a school, and staff feel it is especially important to celebrate the grandparents of the students, Ledbetter said.
“The legacy provided by grandparents is so important, especially in today’s world. The lessons they instill, their memories. The values we learned from our grandparents are still the same values we strive to instill in our students here,” she said.
Rich and Jennie Ginel attended Grandparents Day to visit their four grandchildren who are students there - Kenny Hickey, 10th grade; Lily Hickey, eighth grade; Nick Hickey, sixth grade, and Jack Hickey, fourth grade. The couple attended the dedication ceremony and said the Browers’ actions “proved how people can change the life of someone else in a positive way. Their words reflect the sense of family that we have always felt at Blessed Sacrament.”
After the ceremony, they visited Jack’s fourth-grade class. As part of a special planned activity, Jack interviewed them about what their lives were like at his age. They expressed appreciation to the school for offering the opportunity to family members to interact with their grandchildren in their classroom settings and be part of their day.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.