Shane and Alexis Cauthen hope their new business, Central Christian Academy in Vilonia, being built at the corner of Beryl and Highway 64, will serve as a "beacon of light in the midst of destruction."
"My husband and I have strong ties to this community and deeply desire to serve the families of Vilonia by loving and teaching their children in a safe, clean, nurturing, quality environment," Alexis said. "This is a perfect opportunity for us. We want to take care of the kids in Vilonia."
The daycare will serve children ages 6 weeks to 5 years and includes a school-age program with before- and after-school drop-off and pick-up to and from local elementary schools.
It is a licensed and Better Beginnings accredited program providing Spanish, music, art, gym classes and other activities. The childcare services, Alexis said, will be needed more than ever as the Vilonia community rebuilds. An added benefit to the community, she will employ 25 to 30 to help.
Prior to the venture, Alex was serving as executive director of the Central Christian Academy owned by Christian Jensen. She left that position, and the CCA in Vilonia will be a franchise of the Conway facility, Alex said.
The Vilonia CCA is set to open in January, will measure 6,500 square feet and be constructed of metal with brick on a portion of the front. At a groundbreaking ceremony, it was referred to as an Essential Building, "wind safe" and able to withstand 120-mile-per-hour winds. The construction group is Tom and Kevin Watson of Watson and Watson in Conway.
With a year of planning Alex’s family received a loan approval for the building one week before the April 27 tornado.
When asked if she considered changing her mind after the storm, she said, "It never crossed my mind. I’m optimistic. I believe that Vilonia will come back bigger and stronger and need us more."
The couple is also building a new house, replacing the one that was destroyed by the tornado. It’s an inconvenience, Alexis said, but "we will press on. We think it will be done in October."
She has vivid memories of the aftermath of the tornado. The only thing left standing at their house on Cody Lane was their closet where they were taking refuge with their children. She recalls the sound as being one of the "loudest things I have ever heard. Things kept hitting the closet and I was thinking it might go at any time. I just prayed." The tornado hit her rural neighborhood at 7:27 p.m., during which houses vanished and many serious injuries occurred and lives were lost. Sunset was at 7:48 p.m. That 20 minutes of daylight was a life-changing experience, she said, for many people.
"You could feel and see the presence of God," Alex said. "He provided everything that was needed for lives to be saved."
Her husband was a hero in his family’s eyes before that night. Afterward he became a hero to many.
He pulled walls off of people and made makeshift stretchers out of doors. His truck was totaled by the tornado, but somehow he managed to get it started and save the life of at least one of his neighbors. The back of the truck became a triage.
"All I can say is he used brute strength and prayer," she said. The family was neighbors to Daniel and April Smith. The Smith’s sustained many injuries and lost their two sons, Cameron and Tyler, as a result.