COLUMBIA — Chris Campbell has been in the classroom since he was 3 months old, but not by choice. His mother was a teacher who worked tirelessly to support their family, and frequently took Campbell with her to school.
Campbell didn’t take a shine to school, but later realized the value of a diploma in the job market.
“I thought, ‘Wow, if you don’t have that piece of paper people aren’t even going to talk to you,’” he said.
Campbell, who has worked in construction and truck driving for most of his life, wants a better future for his children, and for members of the north Columbia community.
On June 5, Campbell’s birthday, he and his wife, Tiffany, plan to open the Tree Top Innovative Learning Center at 4470 N. Highway 763. The center will offer care and education to children and higher learning opportunities to their parents.
“What we have found,” Campbell said, “is you can take care of the kids from 8 to 10 hours all day long, but if you don’t get that parent, you’re going to lose that kid. The parent has more power over that kid than anyone else in the world.”
What began as a “daddy day care” in the Campbell’s basement blossomed into an institution with widespread community support. Tree Top’s services are made possible by the collaboration of dozens of local businesses including Central Concrete Co., Shakespeare’s Pizza and Boone County Millwork.
The Campbells are known in the community as people of integrity who strive to help others, said Bishop Lorenzo Lawson. "I support them, that’s the bottom line, because I believe in what they’re doing because it’s for the community," he said.
Campbell didn’t ask businesses for money, only for materials. He heard a lot of ‘no’s, he said, but enough affirmatives to convince him that a higher power was at work.
“This is a crazy idea, but it’s working,” he said. “God gave us a charge — go out there and make this happen.”
And Campbell did. Tree Top will include classrooms, play rooms, books, toys, a computer lab and a 94-by-50 foot professional-sized basketball court.
“That draws kids that wouldn’t normally come,” Campbell said. “They will learn that they cannot go and play until they get their homework done.”
Part of Campbell’s motivation in creating Tree Top is his view that the north side of Columbia is under served. It lacks programs such as Granny’s House, which exist in the south part of town.
“When they built this area it didn’t take off like the south side did,” he said. “I think they didn’t focus on this side of town because it’s like a step-kid: You love them, but it’s not your kid.”
Campbell hopes to shine a light on under-serviced areas of the community.
But not just anyone can enroll in Tree Top’s programs. Families have to want to change their quality of life, and must be willing to work hard to do so.
“We want to show the community that we are change agents,” Campbell said. “We aren’t an institution, we’re a movement.”
His ultimate goal is to take the program nationwide, to under serviced areas all over the country.
“I’m going to go to every low-service neighborhood,” he said, “and give them the hope that they need.”