The Richmond Register

November 15, 2012

Man charged with arson of New Opportunity School in Berea

Fire gutted building used to help women become better educated, employed

By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer

BEREA —

Berea Police have charged a Louisville man in connection with a fire that gutted the New Opportunity School for Women building in December.

Gary C. Davidson, 30, was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree burglary and second-degree arson after a nearly yearlong investigation by the Kentucky State Police.

“We’re looking forward to closure,” said Lori Sliwa, executive director of NOSW.

Davidson admitted to detectives that he broke into the school in the early morning hours of Dec. 12, according to a news release from the Berea Police Department.

A witness noticed the fire at 2:36 a.m. and called 911. However, the damage to the building was extensive, completely destroying all the equipment and furnishings inside.

A security camera on a neighboring building captured video of the suspect, and officers recognized Davidson “from previous dealings with him,” the release stated.

Davidson was located and interviewed by detectives Friday, and he admitted to forcing his way in the building and taking several items, according to the release.

He also told police he was the person in the surveillance video, the BPD reported.

The New Opportunity School for Women was created in 1987 to help Appalachian women become better educated and employed. More then 580 women have completed the school’s three-week residential program, and even more women have benefitted from the program’s career and education outreach and counseling, according to the NOSW website.

After the fire, the school relocated to the lower level of the First Christian Church, 204 Chestnut Street. The program rents the space from the church.

“This has been a wonderful relationship between the New Opportunity School for Women and the First Christian Church,” Sliwa said.

Even though it’s been a tough year for the school, which had to cancel its February term, Sliwa said former graduates and new donors have come forward, along with many members of the community, to support the program.

“Many good things have happened in spite of the fire,” Sliwa said. The school was able to restart its program with a June term.

Last month, the nonprofit received a $40,000 Women Helping Others Foundation grant, which Sliwa said is providing a major boost to rebuilding the program.

The NOSW plans on having a community open house before the end of the year, Sliwa said.

For more information about the school, call 985-7200 or go to www.nosw.org.

Sarah Hogsed can be reached at shogsed

@richmondregister.com

or 624-6694.