ORLANDO, Fla. — Classes will begin for forty preschoolers this Monday, March 20, at Florida’s first tuition-free Bezos Academy, located at Village on Mercy near Orlando’s Pine Hills neighborhood. Village on Mercy is a 166-unit affordable housing community owned by Ability Housing, a nonprofit developer based in Jacksonville. 

What You Need To Know

  • Village on Mercy is a 166-unit affordable housing community

  • A new preschool is opening there

  • The community gathered to celebrate

​Community leaders gathered to mark the preschool’s opening at a press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, where Ability Housing CEO and president Shannon Nazworth described the moment Bezos Academy initially approached her about the opportunity, about a year and a half ago.

“It took us about half a second to say, oh, absolutely, yes,” Nazworth said.

Nazworth said Ability Housing’s team was thrilled and excited to partner with Bezos Academy on the tuition-free, Montessori-inspired preschool project.

“As we all know, stable housing is critical to anyone’s success. Education is the key to a child’s future success,” Nazworth said. “And so partnering together on these two core things to help families thrive is really what both of us are here for.”

Bezos Academy President Mike George also spoke at Wednesday’s press conference, promising that the preschool will bring “full-day, all-year, tuition-free preschool to this community.” He said the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, had a vested interest in bringing the project to Florida.

“[Bezos] is particularly interested in expanding preschool education in places that were important to him in his formative years, and Florida is one of those places,” George said.

City leaders also attended Wednesday’s press conference, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who described it as “a great day for Mercy Drive.” 

Dyer and District 5 Commissioner Regina Hill both reflected on how much progress the Mercy Drive community has made since 10 years ago, when it was known as “murder drive,” Dyer said. 

“The greatest equalizer is a thing we call education,” Hill said.

Several more Bezos Academy locations are slated to open in Florida, including three more in Central Florida, according to the company’s website. Bezos Academy also has preschool locations in Washington state and Texas.