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The SML Center: Imagine the Possibilities

Every time I drive by the vacant Grand Home Furnishings showroom at Westlake Corner, I imagine the possibilities.

I’m filled with enthusiasm about this building becoming a hub for events, entertainment, education and meetings. No doubt you, too, can visualize how the proposal from the SML Center, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, will create a wealth of opportunity for the SML community.

For me, the SML Center, Inc. is a vision and a mission that began on live TV at 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 26, 2015, during the filming of a television segment about the upcoming 50th Anniversary of Smith Mountain Lake. The world watched as a crazed killer took the lives of WDBJ cameraman Adam Ward and reporter Alison Parker.  As their interviewee, I was “collateral damage” —shot in the back and left to die on the boardwalk behind my office.

A number of days later, after multiple surgeries to repair internal damages, I learned what had happened.  It was then I made a vow: “This gruesome incident will not define the Smith Mountain Lake or its wonderful people. “We will recover…and build a better tomorrow for all.”

Well wishes for my recovery brought me beautiful flowers and thoughtful gifts from around the world.  And yes, many unsolicited donations.

It was then that the light went on. I realized those funds could sow the seeds for an SML Community Center to finally become a reality.

Today, led by a board of directors with diversified professional backgrounds, the SML Center is ripe for becoming a reality!  A capital campaign that will enable purchasing the Grand building and property is well underway.  We are encouraged by the outpouring of support already received—a majority of people we have contacted have enthusiastically contributed to the cause—and will continue to reach out to this generous community for funding and assistance.

But sometimes we get a response along the lines of, “Yep, the SML Center is exactly what our community needs! Thanks for your efforts and good luck.” Hmmm: “Good luck” will not get us this building, will not capitalize on this potentially fleeting opportunity to finally create a much-needed community center at SML.

Looking at this project through the lens of economic development, you will easily see people from all over the region shopping, dining and staying at SML while taking in a play, music performance, social gathering, continuing education class or perhaps a family celebration.

I can’t help but think about how quickly we can move forward with the “Grand Plan” purchase and renovation if everyone would chip in what they could. We live in an amazing place that will get even better with quality-of-life additions like the SML Center. Having a year-round, enclosed place with seating for 400 people for performances and convention-style gatherings is long overdue.

A look at the preliminary interior design will give you a clear picture of the possibilities for this outstanding building—and this outstanding community:

Imagine… an array of entertainment, year-round and centrally located.

Imagine… a large, affordable indoor space for special social gatherings, weddings and other family celebrations.

Imagine… a place where kids have a safe setting, with internet access, for homework.

Imagine… offices for businesspeople to meet with clients, conference rooms for use by clubs and organizations.

Imagine… classrooms for student “expand-their-horizons” classes, adult life-long learning opportunities and professional continuing education.

Imagine…. rehearsal, set-building and performance space for theatrical performances.

BUT…Imagine the great loss to all of us if our community doesn’t grab onto this one-of-a-kind community center opportunity.

It’s now been nearly 7 years since the horrific shooting, and I am more determined than ever to complete this awesome project. I pray that there are many people who share my pride in our community and will become a part of the “Grand Plan” through their pledges of financial support as well as time and talent.

To learn more, I encourage you to visit our website for more information; to advocate our “Grand Plan” among your friends and neighbors; and, most importantly, to give what you are able.

Our address for pledges, donations and offers to help is: SML Center, P.O. Box 786, Moneta, VA 24121. You may also donate securely online via PayPal at or contact us with questions at [email protected].

Let’s come together “SML Strong” once again and get this done.  A wonderful opportunity awaits. But it requires the support of our entire community. Imagine the possibilities!

Vicki Gardner

Vicki Gardner served as Executive Director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce from 2002 to 2019. She is President of the Board of Directors for Smith Mountain Lake Center, Inc.

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