Thursday, October 21, 2010

a dream grows from seed to blossoming kids

Growing places celebrates tenth anniversary

Serena Blackburn in the Growing Places garden
    Growing Places Creative Learning Center, an alternative environment for young children, celebrates its tenth year in Dansville under founding Director, Ruth D. Witte.
     “I never had any intention of opening a day care program or a conventional nursery school,” states Witte.
     “People were looking for something different in Dansville, and it matched with my long held vision of children reaching out beyond themselves to develop their gifts and talents in a supportive setting.”
      “I believe Growing Places has been a bright flower in the garden of education in Dansville. My belief that young children need time to be children, to play and dig the dirt in a garden, get up to their elbows in finger paint and run in circles around the room is the reality at Growing Places,” states Pam Maxson, Geneseo, advisory board member for ten years.
     “My daughter and son were at Growing Places most of their lives until they went to kindergarten,” said Samantha Gibson, Dansville, parent and advisory board member.
     “They learned at Growing Places about cooperation, love of the environment and artistic expression. They were taught the value of sharing, both material things and feelings. The value of being heard and listening, the blessing of diversity among people, respect for the earth and all living things was fostered. These lessons will be with them their whole lives and has given them a wonderful foundation for school, which they are both thriving,” Gibson continued.
     A lot of pieces sifted through Witte’s mind starting while she was studying education at the University of Maine. The best episodes of “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” taught her two major learning objectives that would stay with her. First of all, kids need to see where things come from, and secondly, learning something is a process of steps.
      As time went by raising four boys with her husband, Tony, a Family Medicine doctor at Tri-County, Dansville, the picture started to take focus, and her family became an integral part of formulating the beginnings of the nursery school in her basement. For five years Witte maintained her school working through her ideas on a small scale.
    Then in the spring of 2001 non-profit Growing Places Creative Learning Center moved to its own building on 14 Battle Street and was in full operation.
    Witte gives community members, her advisory board and parents both past and present all the credit for involving themselves in keeping the center running.  Many of the main programs that continue from year to year are organized and managed by these volunteers.
     “Parents and volunteers make Growing Places into what they need for it to be,” said Witte.
     Samantha Gibson, advisory board member, brought her idea for a pumpkin carving event as a fundraiser. This year the fourth annual activity will be held on Saturday, October 30 in the garden after the community parade. All the proceeds will go to the Growing Places Scholarship Fund and the Dansville Food Pantry.
     “My entire family was enriched by the nursery school program. Ruth's creativity and loving care brought out the best in my kids. They both have great memories of their time there and we all made life-long friends,” states Suzanne Blackburn, Nunda, parent and advisory board member.
      “We became part of a community of people who care not just about kids but also about beauty, play, peace, and the world around us. I was able to share my gifts with this community and be a part of the growth of Growing Places itself. The programs Ruth offers for families continue to enrich us providing a place to play, be creative, to learn, and work together. I can't imagine my life without Growing Places,” Blackburn said.
     Blackburn has presented World Peace programs each year, organized a Simple Meal event, and her family continues to participate in many of the activities at Growing Places.
     A Taste of Dominica, an international dinner spotlighting the center’s partnership with the Crayfish River Preschool in Dominica, a tiny island country in the Caribbean, has been chaired by Beth Symes-Latini, Almond, an experienced caterer and parent. Growing Places funds a breakfast program at its sister school from generous contributions from the community.
    Also, Growing Places children make regular shipments of school supplies to Dominica.  They participate in correspondence through pictures and letters with the children of that country. This relationship between the children provides an initiation into global awareness.
     To support parents as educational partners, Witte maintains a website ( and a blog  (
     “The children's garden at Growing Places provides a self-contained ecosystem on premises, as well as an initiation to environmental awareness through natural teaching moments,” states Witte.
     “I have noticed that we have a high concentration of very talented young performing artists and writers in the Dansville area, and so many of our Growing Places graduates are part of that group. They are now successful out in the world, and I continue to hear from many,” states Witte.
     Difficult economic times have had their toll on Growing Places, but the center continues to offer programs for the community, even expanding to provide women’s programs in the evenings at Tree Top Heaven on the second floor.
     “The preschool has been a steady program the entire time, and the addition a few years ago of the Treetop Haven Women's Center has opened up many possibilities for classes and informal gatherings for women of all ages and stages of life. From quilting to flower arranging to gardening to encouraging each other's artistic endeavors, the women's center has fostered a warm and welcoming atmosphere at Growing Places,” concludes Maxson. 
     Witte invites the community to participate in a tenth anniversary year filled with happenings at Growing Places.