Helping teachers get a tan

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 25, 2006

At the next PTA meeting, area teachers will have a beautiful glow to their skin, but it won’t be because they all went on a vacation. There’s just a new place to buy school supplies and enjoy a moment in the tanning bed between purchases.

Even though the name describes its main contents, Tools for Learning has more to provide for the community than what the sign reads.

“When we first moved in, the lady who used to own the building was selling the tanning beds so we bought one. Teachers need tans too,” owner Trish McVay said. “It’s been real successful though and we’re going to add two more beds in the back.”

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Raised in Butler, McVay made her first move to Demopolis as a student teacher at Demopolis Academy seven years ago. After giving birth to sons Chance, 4, and Logan, 6, McVay took a break from teaching to spend time with her family. She then returned to the Academy a “few years” before her move to U.S. Jones one year ago.

“I’ve been here for seven years and I saw there was a great need for something like this in the community,” she said. “As teachers, we always had to drive to Tuscaloosa to get things.”

So, McVay took it as her responsibility to open a supply store in 2005.

“We started trying to open it this past summer, but then we decided not to do it for a while,” McVay said about her and her husband Mark. “So I started praying to God and asked Him if this was what He wanted me to do. Now I’m glad I did it because this has changed my life in so many ways.”

In November, McVay, her mother, father, and husband began to transform the South Cedar Street location into Tools for Learning. Her two sons even helped by cleaning floors, dragging boxes and stocking shelves.

“They were a big assets also,” McVay smiled. “For that whole first month we wouldn’t leave out of here until 10 at night and the kids were right there with us.”

As manager of the business, McVay’s mother and “right hand” Kathy Mahan said this business was her daughter’s dream.

“She’s my daughter and she’s always stood behind me and now I’ll be behind her,” Mahan said. “This is her dream and what better thing can a parent do than to back their child’s dream?”

Mahan, who went from a full-time to a part-time teacher at Stay and Play Christian Nursery, said she would do anything to help her daughter and the business.

“She needed someone to be here to open the store early,” Mahan said. “She’s dedicated and I will stand by her 100 percent.”

“My mother and my husband have been phenomenal in helping me.” McVay said. “My dad’s even been researching products for us.”

Having taught pre-k, first, fourth, fifth and sixth grade, McVay has a good idea of what teachers need to enhance learning in their classrooms.

“We sell a lot of bulletin board supplies and educational electronics,” she said. “We also have play dough, chalk, art supplies, foreign language learning materials, sign language flash cards, and science project supplies.”

Tools also provides laminating services, prepared party bags and teacher/ parent gifts, manipulatives to provide a hands on learning experience for children.

While parents shop or tan, the children can play with some of the items in the designated play area at the front of the store.

“In the next few months we hope to have die cuts and more electronic games. We are also researching getting supplies for home schooling too,” McVay said. “We’ve been getting great response so far. We’ve had customers from Eutaw, Linden, Uniontown, Livingston and a lot of other surrounding areas.”

Second grade Westside Elementary teacher Annette Glenn used to travel to Northport for her supplies, but now visits Tools to shop and tan.

“I thought wow when I found out they had tanning beds and a play area for children,” Glenn said. “I had the idea to open something like this last summer. We needed it so it was a good idea.”

“We knew if we didn’t do it now, someone else would do it,” McVay said. “So we figured why not us?”

Although Demopolis is home to a new Supercenter, McVay suggests teachers and families shop at Tools for a cozier atmosphere and to keep the money local.

“It’s more personal service here,” McVay said. “If our customers want something that’s not in the store, we’ll find it. And we’ll still be competitive with other prices.”

Tools for Learning is open Monday through Friday from 1-5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.