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Students at Open Air Village played with rocks and other “loose parts” in the school’s outdoor classroom area. The school will hold a yard sale Saturday, May 25, with aim of raising funds to add a tire swing to the play yard. (Photo by Lauren "Chuck" Shows)

Open Air Village to host fundraiser yard sale

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Early education center Open Air Village, which offers nature-based preschool for ages 3–5 and additional programming for infants and kids through age 10, will hold a multi-family yard sale Saturday, May 25, with proceeds to support the private institution.

The News spoke with Open Air Village co-founder and director Nicole Gay this week, who said the sale’s proceeds will go toward adding to the school’s outdoor classroom area, which complements its indoor facility, located in the Sontag-Fels building on the Antioch College campus.

At present, the play yard includes a wooden climbing structure and a covered platform with a chalkboard, as well as a number of “loose parts” — materials like PVC pipes, rocks, shovels, wooden blocks for construction — with which students play and learn.

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“We operate by having an outdoor classroom, and [students] have everything they need to make their own playscape — everything is moveable,” Gay said. “When you have a play area that has moveable parts and is immersed in nature, the children are the ones who are in control of their environment, and it makes them just so much more creative. They use the materials in endless ways.”

However, Gay said the school aims to add a new, large tire swing to the play yard — something that Gay said would be particularly helpful for students with high sensory needs.

“They can really benefit from that vestibular motion that you’ll get from swinging or spinning, so that is our biggest goal,” Gay said. “As much as our children don’t need the typical playground equipment, I do think that having something for the kids to swing on would be really healthy for them.”

A tire swing suitable for a playground — and approved by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, or ODJFS, which regulates early childhood education centers — can run around $2,000–$3,000, which Gay acknowledged was “pretty hefty.”

“I wish it were as simple as just taking a tire and attaching it to a rope and putting it on a tree,” she said.

Gay said the upcoming yard sale was meant to be part of a potential two-pronged approach to additional funding, with Open Air Village having applied for an Early Care and Education Access Grant from ODJFS. However, though the school was one of many early education centers in the state to receive Stabilization Grants from ODJFS in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, Open Air Village was not selected to receive an Access Grant this year.

“We were disappointed not to get the grant — but, you know, we just want to make lemonade from lemons and figure out a way to still reach our goals of making our place a little bit nicer in the next year,” Gay said, adding that only about 5% of applicants received Access Grants.

If Open Air Village had received the grant, in addition to a tire swing, Gay said the school would have added a fort and a natural hill slide through its native pollinator gardens to the outdoor classroom area. Students spend much of their time outdoors, but the school also, of course, has indoor classrooms — with “loose parts” play and natural elements that mirror their outdoor counterparts.

“We bring nature indoors as much as we can,” Gay said.

Open Air Village still aims to expand its outdoor play area in the future, pending future grants or fundraising. Gay said that, though she and her husband, Bryan Gay, operate Open Air Village under “nonprofit values,” the center is not classified as a nonprofit, and can’t apply for funding open to nonprofits. For that reason, the school has mostly been focused on daily operations, upkeep and small upgrades over the last few years.

“If you want to add just one new thing to your environment, it can be thousands of dollars — and we only opened in 2020, which was a very challenging time to open,” Gay said.

Open Air Village is one of many small early childhood education centers in the state that continues to work to maintain adequate funding to support staffing and operations post-pandemic. According to the state’s newly formed Department of Children and Youth, nearly 380 early childhood education centers have closed since 2020, with a record high of 199 closing in 2023.

Earlier this year, Gay told the News that, owing to the discontinuation of the state’s Stabilization Grants and a loss of teachers, Open Air Village had scaled back its operations, closing its downtown satellite location, formerly above the Winds Cafe. Open Air Studio. At the same time, the Sontag-Fels building, where the school is located, is currently up for sale by Antioch College.

Nevertheless, Gay said this week that enrollment is “right where it needs to be” for the school — which is to say, Open Air Village is full for the upcoming fall, with a waiting list. And though the school hasn’t “heard anything lately about what’s going on with the building,” Gay said the college’s realtor, Sam Eckenrode, has stayed in touch with Open Air Village and has let potential buyers for the building know that the school would like to stay in the building.

“We’re hoping that’s part of the buying agreement, and I think [Eckenrode’s] goal — and our goal — is that whoever buys the building sees us as an asset,” Gay said. “Hopefully we can collaborate in some way to keep the space here.”

In the meantime, Gay said, as it heads into its fifth year, Open Air Village hopes the upcoming yard sale will raise enough funds to “make it a little more exciting” for students on campus.

The community is invited to browse the wares of the yard sale on May 25, and the school is accepting community donations of items for the yard sale. Community members are also welcome to set up their own sale spaces on the school’s grounds in return for donating 50% of sale profits to Open Air Village.

Any items not sold during the yard sale event Saturday will be offered by donation only on Sunday, May 26. On Monday, May 27, remaining items will be donated to a trio of organizations, depending on which might make best use of them: Hannah’s Treasure Chest, a Centerville-based nonprofit that creates care packages for area children in need; The Artemis Domestic Violence Center in Dayton; and the Dayton VA.

Gay said the idea for the yard sale was brought to her by one of the school’s parents, local resident Colette Palamar, who stepped up to organize the event. School parents are also donating not only items to the sale, but tents, tarps and their time.

“I feel very thankful for that, because we definitely couldn’t do it alone,” Gay said. “And if more community members want to be part of it, we welcome them.”

Open Air Village will hold the yard sale Saturday, May 25, beginning at 9 a.m. Those interested in donating items may drop them off at the school Friday, May 24, 3–5 p.m. Volunteers, pop-up tents, tarps and folding tables to borrow will be happily accepted. For more information, contact Gay at nicole@openairvillage.com.

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