WAVERLY (SNR/VM) - Villa Marie Home and School for Exceptional Children is a small school with lots of heart, led by the Marian Sisters since its founding by Msgr. James Dawson 54 years ago.
It is the love and care of the Marian Sisters that give Villa Marie its uniqueness.
The school is nestled in the Nebraska countryside between Lincoln and Waverly, with lots of open space for children to run and play, as well as space for the students’ beloved chickens and rooster, vegetable and butterfly gardens, and playground.
Each student receives personalized educational attention allowing them to excel individually. Mass is celebrated daily and allows students, regardless of their faith background, the opportunity to know God and His unfailing love for them.
“Our children have powerful prayers,” said principal Sister Jeanette Rerucha. “They bring their intentions to Mass each day.”
Children with mild to moderate developmental challenges often find refuge at Villa Marie, after struggling within a public school system. Joshua is a bright 15-year-old with Down Syndrome currently in his second year at Villa Marie.
His father Pat said that before finding Villa Marie, he disliked going to school.
“Joshua would tell me he’s done with school and didn’t want to get out of bed to go to school,” Pat recalled. “Within several weeks of starting Villa Marie, arriving at school, Joshua would run into the school because he wanted to see his buddies.
Villa Marie was not “‘school’ to Joshua anymore, he said, it was a loving family of his peers.”
Pat shared that Joshua “is learning new techniques that use visual objects to verbalize his thoughts. This enables him to communicate with others more easily.
“He can now verbally spell his name,” he continued, “and is becoming more independent and caring for himself, following the example of his peers and tutoring of his teachers.”
Children who attend Villa Marie have the option to have their parents transport them to and from school daily, or they can choose to live at the school and receive 24-hour encouragement from the Marian Sisters, returning home on weekends and holidays. It is the only school in Nebraska offering 24-hour care in this capacity for these children and parents report they are extremely grateful for this service for their children. Students find great acceptance, develop amazing confidence, and grow in ways unimagined before finding Villa Marie.
“They flourish before our eyes amongst their peers in an atmosphere where they love to learn, and are encouraged to be their best selves based on their God-given talents,” said Msgr. John Perkinton, director of Villa Marie.
The school is a part of the Lincoln Diocese, but not funded by the diocese or a parish like the other schools.
“We rely on the kindness of individuals and God’s Providence for the money to operate the school and provide for emergency needs. I’m told, it has been that way since the beginning,” explained Jennifer Allamby, who began working as executive director of development and advancement for Villa Marie in November.
The school recently had to replace three of six furnaces and the water heater, and just found out they need to replace their two vans. They are looking at options for student transportation, and are hopeful that their needs will be fulfilled.
“An anonymous donor has stepped forward and offered a $50,000 match gift,” said Allamby. “It’s wonderful when the impact of a gift is doubled through the generosity and kindness of another donor.”
The school needs to raise $50,000 to receive the matching gift.
The school is in full preparation for their 54th annual benefit dance, silent auction and raffle which will be held Friday, Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Pla Mor Ballroom, 6600 W O St., Lincoln.
Bobby Layne and his Orchestra will provide live music for the event.
Allamby said she recently talked with Msgr. Dawson about the very first dance.
“After his cousin Winifred’s estate gift was used to build the classrooms in the basement, he still needed money for operations,” she shared. “Bobby Layne was one of Msgr. Dawson’s parishioners and they were good friends. Bobby offered to be the entertainment.”
Msgr. Dawson asked 10 women in his parish to make calls and fill the Pla Mor Ballroom. They sold it out, plus 10 extra people. When Msgr. told them they couldn’t oversell the event, one of the women told him her family would dance the whole evening, so those 10 people could sit at her table.
“It was a loving outpouring of support for the new school,” Allamby recounted.
“We are working to establish a new website and social media presence so that in the future we will be able to process online ticket sales and donations,” Allamby said. For now, everything must be done by check or cash.
Donations can be mailed to Villa Marie Home and School, 7205 N. 112th St, Waverly, NE 68462. Remittance envelopes are included in this issue of the Register.
Patrons can also follow the school on Facebook at fb.me/villamariewaverly. Allamby anticipates that the new website will be unveiled the first quarter of 2018. She looks forward to people learning how “it is the heart that sets apart Villa Marie.”
“The children care for each other like siblings and look out for and encourage one another,” Allamby said. “The family-like atmosphere and the love surrounding this place is absolutely amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The Sisters and teachers exhibit exceptional patience and care for each child, each with their unique set of needs. I am honored for the opportunity to find the funding to build a better future for these children.”
Villa Marie would love to be able to serve the children on their waiting list. Currently the student capacity is 24.
“The need is great for this type of specialized educational care,” Sister Jeanette said, “and we would love to have the additional space and staff to serve more children while retaining our ‘family’ atmosphere. Currently, we are focused on funding the expansion of programming and services to current students and the alumni of the school within our current facilities.”