Through The Years

January 1, 2016- Changes afoot for Growing Places

Growing Places Creative Learning Center is approaching a fork in the road.

Twenty years ago, in 1995, Ruth Witte of Dansville New York created Growing Places, an enrichment program for young children, in the basement of her home. In 2001, the Witte’s purchased property in the village of Dansville, established a non-profit corporation; and an Advisory Board (ie, board of directors) was formed.

Since then,

  • Well over 250 children have passed through the PlaySchool, a preschool alternative Growing Places has offered since 1995. Many  have traveled up to 25 miles (from Wayland, Springwater, Conesus, Sparta, Nunda, Perry, Livonia, Geneseo, Cohocton, Canaseraga, Almond, Hornell) to attend this unique program.
  • Innumerable school aged children (including many GP alumni) have attended summer programs and special events through the years, as well as intermittent afterschool programs, and offerings for home schooled children.
  • Contact with many of GP’s alumni, has revealed that most have been high achievers in school and extracurricular activities, going on to become very accomplished in their endeavors involving the arts, social services (medicine, education) and athletics.
  • Parents are offered a common sense approach to parenting, that enhances good communication, teaches respect, self discipline, environmental awareness, and more through parent support groups, newsletters, and a newspaper column.
  • Growing Places has created a Language Arts Program through which children learn how written and spoken language relate to one another; how to think through their responses using the knowledge and experience they have; and how to communicate in a coherent fashion.
  • Growing Places’ approach to art is likewise unique. Children partner with an adult to make choices re: color and composition as they learn decision making, personal preference, foresight and vision, and how different materials can be used to create objects that add beauty to this world.
  • The children’s garden has expanded from a barren graveled and fenced in area, to a beautiful play space, complete with small pond dug by the children and a memorial brick path. This ever evolving wildlife habitat developed by the Growing Places community over the years, provides a backdrop to nature study and environmental awareness.
  • There has been meaningful participation in numerous community and world service organizations (Sr. Nutrition Center, Food Pantry, American Friends Service Committee, UNICEF, Heiffer Project, Christian Children’s Fund, and ChildFund International), have helped to build a strong foundation for social responsibility.
  • For five years Growing Places joined forces with an indigent preschool in Dominica, West Indies. Children exchanged letters and artwork; and Growing Places initiated a lunch program for malnourished children.
  • An opportunity for community service is made available to middle and high school students, as well as internships with students from Genesee Community College
  • A book of Growing Places Kid’s observations and insights has been published and offered as incentive for donation.
  • A recently launched 20 year commemorative website details the Growing Places experience and community, as well as providing a parenting resource. See

Most worthy of mention is the fact that all of this has been accomplished predominantly through volunteer service and donations.

Through a bequest from my parents, Richard and Carol Dutting, the generosity of Tony Witte, and an abundance of community support and expertise, I have been allowed the astonishing gift of realizing a program that addresses what children in today’s society truly need in order to make the world a better place. 

Over the years I have sadly resigned myself to the likelihood that when I retire, Growing Places will retire as well. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Our hope is to raise the funds necessary to hire a part-time administrator capable of achieving the financial viability, and additional teaching staff necessary to take Growing Places forward.

“There is a strong foundation for Growing Places to achieve much greater success with proper nurturing and administration. I am not technically an administrator and as a result have not had the capability to take Growing Places where it deserves to go.

Hence the fork in the road.

Ruth  is wanting to step back a bit. A final push is being made to achieve financial sustainability in it’s own right. If in the next 3 months, substantive progress is not made toward this end, action will commence to dismantle the organization. 

If you would like to make a financial contribution, participate in a fundraising campaign, or offer services in the reorganization of Growing Places, Inc., contact Ruth Witte at

Past Projects and Accomplishments

The Early Years | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | GP Kids Blossom


Growing Places established in basement of Ruth Witte’s home

Growing Places, a grassroots organization involving tending of children, was founded in 1995. It is a life long dream which germinated while I was in college 35 years ago- a child garden, if you will. It continues to grow and evolve today in all of its stunning beauty; not at all according to original plan, for it’s current tangled gorgeousness could not have been contrived.



Growing Places Inc. established as a not-for-profit organization

Growing Places is run entirely by volunteers, with the exception of the part-time summer employment of a college student majoring in early childhood and music education, and occasional guest artists accepting nominal fees. Financial support is received through tuitions for nursery school and playgroup attendees, fees for women’s activities, special events, fundraising activities, and donations.

Bylaws developed

View our Bylaws here

Battle St. property acquired

GROWING PLACES is Going Places!

Growing Places is a garden, art, community-based enrichment program for children ages 3 to 12, and has been in existence since 1995. Ruth Witte, a resident of Dansville since 1987, created this program for the enhancement of her own children’s education. As a result, children of Dansville and the surrounding area have benefited from summer enrichment programs, as well as a creative preschool alternative. In addition, over the years Witte has taken numerous projects into the classroom, serving to enhance the curriculum being offered in the Dansville School District.

Change is brewing for Growing Places. A home-based endeavor to date, the acquisition of a new property in the village of Dansville is allowing for expansion of this program to include resources for parents and daycare providers as well.

Growing Places Enrichment Center will be opening this spring. An Arts Festival will be the kick off for this event. On May 19, in conjunction with the Dogwood Festival in Dansville, various artists will gather at 14 Battle Street to celebrate the Grand Opening of Growing Places Enrichment Center.Visual and performing artists will assemble for an afternoon of fun and creativity. Storytelling, juggling exhibitions, music, and an opportunity for children to express themselves artistically with a variety of accomplished local artists, are in store for those who attend this exciting event.

Dansville is a community that values children, and there are many opportunities available to our children: Karate, gymnastics, dance, piano, soccer, Little League, Scouts, 4-H, and more. Growing Places offers a garden-based enrichment program focusing on visual arts, nature, and community. Growing Places will be expanding these programs for children ages 3-12, to date in the form of preschool and summer enrichment programs.

There is a tremendous amount of press regarding the importance of preschool education. Many people are not ready to commit their child to the type of structure that Universal Pre-K and other traditional preschools in the area have to offer, where class size typically ranges from 15 to 18 children and there is a certain routine adhered to daily. However, parents do seek social exposure and enrichment for their 3 or 4 year old. Children who attend Growing Places are offered many different kinds of activities and experiences designed to spark curiosity and enthusiasm in learning. The day is not rigidly structured, but planned according to our learning focus (e.g., garden, art, safety) and the needs of the children at the moment. Class size ranges from 6 to 8 children of mixed ages (3-5 years). This allows for individual attention and greater flexibility. This program dovetails nicely with existing preschool programs in the area to provide a more comprehensive experience. Parents are invited to become involved, and will be offered resources in the form of parent education and support groups.

Children in kindergarten through 5th grade will have access to these programs after school and during school vacation and conference days. The needs of home educators will be addressed as well, through curriculum development, and opportunity for socialization by way of these enrichment programs.

Family daycare has become a primary means of childcare. Starting next fall, Growing Places will offer art enrichment activities for daycare providers and the children in their care, providing an opportunity for local field trips. Growing Places will also offer training required for daycare providers to maintain state certification. Until now, local daycare providers have had to travel to other communities to fulfill this obligation.

Growing Places is an exciting opportunity for those who want a small-town lifestyle, and desire more creative alternatives for their children. Come grow with us. (4-01)

Grand Opening

Advisory Board Inaugurated

Read about our Advisory Board Members

It Takes a Village

Growing Places Enrichment Center has made a tremendous splash this summer. The Summer Enrichment program has seen 38 different children in ten classes, averaging 7 children (including student assistants) per class! Special guests have included Mary Castor teaching watercolors to 2 different classes, Phil Witte and Ryan Brewer sharing their juggling expertise, Helen DeVinney, dance, and Ann Morrow, music. Student assistants have included Megan Ferree (9th grade) helping with two preschool art classes, Phil Witte with Rhythm, Clowning, and Garden classes, Jordan and Ben Witte with Paint classes.

Last spring, our work parties drew more than 30 people from the community. They built the play structure and picnic tables, planted shrubs, painted wall murals, cleaned, covered library books, decorated, made copies, fixed things, etc. In addition, Mrs. Haywood’s and Mrs. Parisella’s 5th grade classes came and put the gardens in! We received significant contributions for the gardens from Steuben Landscaping, Tops, and Agway, and donations of time and manpower from Future Images, Rock Built Homes and Briter Homes Construction! (8-01)

What’s Growing On!

In the wake of the World Trade Center tragedy, we find ourselves searching for a way to make a difference somehow. At Growing Places Enrichment Center, adults as well as children are finding the solace and satisfaction of affecting peoples lives in a most loving and creative way. Stepping into Growing Places is stepping into an oasis. Participants will tell you, the blueberries and raspberries were delicious; lettuce, beans and pumpkin gourds plentiful. Acrobatic blue jays and squirrels swing from towering sunflowers. Flowers are pressed, sun prints made, butterflies metamorphosed, insects tucked away, and seeds gathered for next spring’s planting.

With the change of season comes a shift in the focus of our activities. We turn our attention from the study of nature to community. As the year progresses, we become more involved with community service activities, including UNICEF and Food Pantry collections, and preparation of a children’s art display for Spring Creek Apartments. Personal participation by the children in these events allows them to realize that they can have an impact on making the world a better place.

Not to be outdone by the children, parents and members of the community give freely of their time and talents through their involvement with the children, in support of a scholarship fund, and with strengthening of the foundation and structure of the organization.

Advisory Board members are enthusiastically showing their support by giving of themselves in an exciting fundraising event reflective of the mission of Growing Places, Inc. During Winter in the Village, a craft table in the Village of Dansville Town Hall, and art show and sale at the Growing Places Enrichment Center on Battle St., will take place. This event is for benefit of a Scholarship Fund for children in need, who wish to participate in one of the many opportunities available to them at Growing Places. The public is reminded that Growing Places, Inc. is a non-profit organization, and contributions to this important fund are tax deductible. In addition, on that day children and parents are invited to come make an ornament for the Growing Places Christmas Tree. The hope is that an ornament will be contributed by each of the many Growing Places participants: past, present, and future.

Growing Places Enrichment Center, successor to Growing Places, Inc., continues to take shape as a leading quality resource for children in Dansville and surrounding communities. Located in the village of Dansville, activities include early childhood, homeschool and art enrichment opportunities, an alternative to daycare on school conference days, parent support and toddler playgroups.(11-01)


Growing Places participates in Dansville Pride community clean-upimg179


Ruth Witte of Dansville, NY, established Growing Places in 1995. It became a non-profit organization in May 2001. Treasurer Nancy Hussey has obtained our status as 501(C)3, rendering us tax-exempt .

Pave the Garden Path initiated



Heifer Project Bottle Drive

Heifer Project International is a nonprofit organization committed to providing families and communities in developing countries with a means to earn a living. Providing a family with some type of livestock, the Heifer Project teaches the family how to care for the animals and how to use the animals to generate income. A goat provides milk and offspring for sale, bees provide honey, ducks produce eggs and offspring. A family who receives livestock through the Heifer Project must contribute back to the community by giving some offspring to another family in the community. You can learn more about the Heifer Project at



A new tradition at Dansville Senior Nutrition Center

Sr545997399e1ca.jpgFor weeks before Valentine’s Day the Growing Places Kids work on making beautiful Valentines for the Senior Nutrition Center. With only a vague concept of the reason for this, their excitement grows as the day approaches. On the day itself, they can barely contain themselves and need an extra long run-around time to calm down a bit before boarding the LATS bus for the ride over

Some of the children are naturally outgoing and have no problem approaching “the Grammas and Grampas” to present their masterpieces to these virtual strangers. But even the shyest children can’t remain on the sidelines for long when they see the impact they can have as they present their artwork, to the delighted recipients.

After the Valentines have been passed out, they gather at the front of the hall to sing a few songs, which are chosen on the spot. Their very favorite song is Five Little Pumpkins, a Halloween song that is way too much fun to put away until the season it is meant for, so they sing it for all occasions! Before boarding the bus, they in turn receive a treat, an added bonus they were definitely not expecting! (2-04)

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF

During October kids across the United States collect money in the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF box to support UNICEF. UNICEF works for the survival, protection, and development of children in 157 countries and territories around the world, helps develop community-based programs to promote health and immunization programs, basic education, nutrition, safe water supply and sanitation services, and continues to provide emergency relief as needed.

Emergency Hygiene Kitssellers

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) sponsors a program whereby Emergency Hygiene Kits are assembled and distributed. These kits are needed in crisis situations where electricity is unavailable and basic first aid supplies are scarce, They are distributed to refugee camps and to individual families in areas stricken by natural disaster, war, or other humanitarian emergencies.

At the Christmas party, the children helped assemble 50 kits containing such items as soap, washcloth, toothbrush, etc. to be sent to the AFSC for distribution to children who are victims of natural disasters. A bead necklace was also included in each of the kits. All the contents of the kits were donated by area merchants.



Crayfish River Preschool connection established in Dominica1929701_8923719159_2958_n

In April, Ruth Witte attended a Christian Children’s Fund (CCF) Study Tour to Dominica in the West Indies to meet the Witte’s sponsored child and learn first hand about her country and the CCF. While there, Ruth met a Peace Corp volunteer who put her in touch with a preschool teacher in the impoverished Carib Indian territory.

The following September, the children at Growing Places and Crayfish River Preschool began corresponding through letters and artwork. Throughout the fall, various school supplies, books and toys were collected by the Dansville organization and sent to the Dominican preschool via the Peace Corp connection at the end of the year.


Megan Runs Summer Program

In 1995, Megan Ferree shared with one of our first classes, the Amish way of making strawberry jam. She was in 3rd grade. She became our most devoted volunteer through the years, helping with most of the summer programs we offered, as well as with special events throughout the year. Megan and Growing Places grew up together, and as a new high school graduate in 2005, she stepped in to design and oversee the summer program that year …. She has since gone on to become a highly respected elementary music teacher in the southern tier.

Ravenous Readers established in September



Peace Corps Week at Growing Places: Promoting World Peace and Friendship

Peace EducationSince 1961, more than 180,000 individuals have served in 138 countries around the world as Peace Corps Volunteers. During Peace Corps Week 2006, thousands of former Volunteers will celebrate the agency’s 45th anniversary by promoting world peace and friendship in their communities. Peace Corps Week is a time to highlight and to celebrate the important work of our country’s Peace Corps Volunteers overseas and the continuing service that returned Volunteers bring to their communities here at home.

Suzanne Blackburn served in Kenya from 1991 to 1993. She taught physics, chemistry, and math at a rural high school in the Kenyan highlands, about 2 hours north of Nairobi. She now resides in Nunda with her husband and two daughters. During Peace Corps Week, Suzanne will share her experiences with the children of Growing Places and their families. Interested community members are invited to participate in any of week’s activities.

Nursery School and Playgroups meet at their regular times

1929701_8923709159_1516_nMonday (3/6) & Tues. (3/7): Kangas, Kikois, and Kiondos 9:30-11:30 am. Suzanne will bring traditional Kenyan fabrics and baskets. Children will have the opportunity to carry “babies” on their backs using a sling and carry baskets with the straps across their foreheads in the traditional Kikuyu manner still used today. Parents will help children make chapatis to eat at snack time.

Wednesday (3/8) Peace Corps Kenya Day for Homeschooling Families. 4:00-5:30 pm. School age kids will learn about the day in the life of a Kenyan kid. Lots of time allowed to be creative with the fabrics and baskets Suzanne brought from Kenya. Families will make chapatis to serve at the simple meal (see below) and are encouraged to stay for dinner! Please RSVP by Tuesday 3/7 (585) 335-7340.

Wednesday (3/8) 5:30 to 7 pm Simple Meal and Drumming at Growing Places. Families are invited to share in a simple meal of rice, beans, soup, and other foods from around the world. Suzanne Blackburn will share a short video featuring her Peace Corps experiences. Phil Witte and Colin Wilcox will bring their drums and kids can play along with percussion instruments from all around the world. There is no fee for the meal but please consider contributing the amount your family would typically spend on a night out to dinner. Donations will be contributed to Growing Places’ sister school in Dominica.

Thurs (3/9) and Fri (3/10) Mandazi and Tea 11:00 am. Moms, Dads, and other caregivers please arrive early to share in a traditional Kenyan snack while your kids sing the songs they have learned this week. Come see your child’s most recent art work on display!

Simple Meal Initiated

Why a simple meal? As adults, we know that people around the world live different types of lives. They eat different foods, live in different types of housing, speak different languages. But have you ever thought about what life is like without all the conveniences we enjoy? What if you had to carry all the water you use in a day from a river to your home? What would it be like to make meals if you had no refrigerator, freezer, or canned food? What is it like to wash all your laundry by hand? How would you function without electricity?

When we share a simple meal, we have an opportunity to be thankful for the modern conveniences we have and to remember that most people in the world do not have access to such resources. We can think of ways to make our lives simpler, to unclutter our time and our living spaces. Most importantly, we can be together. We can enjoy each other’s company and remember that people all over the world, for generations, have gathered to share meals together. (3-06)

Metamorphosis by Samantha GbsonWomen’s Center

The newly established Center for Women creates a sense of community among women, offering opportunities (classes, reading groups, and support groups) for personal discovery and growth in a nurturing environment.

Crayfish River Preschool Project:


Growing Places has created a strong bond with Crayfish River Preschool in the ancient Carib Territory of Dominica, a tiny island country in the West Indies. Not only do we make regular shipments of supplies, the children participate in correspondence through pictures and letters with the children of that country. This relationship between the children provides a marvelous initiation to global awareness. This project has become integral to our activities throughout the year and has attracted the attention and involvement of the community at large.


Soul Rhythms – Drumming for the Heart of Women

girlsoutRhythms are a constant throughout our lives. We start life hearing mother’s heart beat. The rhythm of mother’s body brings us into this world. We breathe, our hearts beat, Night brings day brings night…, the moon cycles, the seasons change, and waves crash upon a shore eternally, and we listen to the clock ticking in sleepless night. Rhythm is the heart of life and creativity.

Growing Places Enrichment Center, presents a series of world drumming sessions for adult women, funded in part by the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Program, administered by the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts. As we are led in world drumming activities, participants will be exposed to the soulful and nurturing power of the drumming experience, while increasing awareness of the world community of women as a whole.

IAN GENDREAU, who will be leading the workshops, has studied at State University of New York at Geneseo, Hochstein Music School, the Eastman School of Music, and the National Theatre in Accra, Ghana. He has studied Ghanaian drumming with Charles Armah. Ian is a member of Panloco and Pangaia Steel Bands. He has also performed with many jazz, rock and world music groups in the area, as well as performing in pit orchestras and doing other freelance percussion work. He has been a member of the McClure Artist Guild since 1997.

Drumming sessions will be held 8 times between April and August 2007. Class size will generally be 12 participants per session on a first come, first served basis. Fee is $10 per session, or $60 in advance for all eight sessions. For more information, email


Growing Places to sponsor the 1st Annual Pumpkin Contest

Pumpkin- History

A pumpkin contest is being organized by Samantha Gibson on behalf of Growing Places as a means for getting the community involved in assisting our Dominican friends. The impoverished conditions are unimaginable, and shipment of educational supplies is a mere drop in the bucket when one considers the day to day challenges of teaching in an utterly destitute environment. Hunger is rampant. It is in response to this need that Growing Places pioneers efforts to address the more basic problem of malnutrition suffered by the children of Crayfish River Preschool. Working with Christian Children’s Fund, a critical benefactor to the island’s people, Growing Places seeks to obtain funding through local civic groups and individuals to create an ongoing feeding program in Crayfish River Preschool. We desire commitment from organizations and individuals to the tune of $100 once a year in a given month. In this way we can rest assured that this program will continue year after year. We are blessed with this opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of children there.

Name changed from Growing Places Enrichment Center to Growing Places Creative Learning Center


Feeding Program for Dominica Preschool

Taste of Dominica (2)

Growing Places has offered the Dansville community a Taste of Dominica in initiating a feeding program for our sister school, Crayfish River Preschool in Dominica West Indies. The Advisory Board prepared a variety of authentic Dominican cuisine and shared with attendees the correspondences between children, a slide presentation from Ruth Witte’s 2005 visit to the tiny Caribbean island, and a variety of hand made crafts of the Carib Indians. We are looking for people and organizations who would be willing to contribute $100 one month per year in order to maintain this program indefinitely. One time contributions are gratefully accepted as well. 🙂 (3-08)

Lilac Grove is Being Brought Back to Life

Work has commenced on an abandoned lilac grove in Dansville, NY. Families and friends of Growing Places initiated this project in honor of Earth Day 2008. The plot is a tangled jungle of weeds and hundreds of overgrown and neglected lilac bushes, requiring a LOT of work. Please join us. It is so much fun, and the bushes next to the road that have been tended to look amazing! Gather a group of your friends and join us in this worthwhile project! (4-08)

Update on Crayfish River Feeding Program

The response to our efforts in getting the Dansville community involved in initiating a Feeding Program for the children of Crayfish River Preschool in Dominica has been wildly enthusiastic! As a result of the 1st Annual Pumpkin Contest (co-sponsored last year by the Dansville Central School National Honor Society and Growing Places) and the Taste of Dominica Dinner held at Growing Places in February, we have been able to send $100 per month, since February. That amount was chosen arbitrarily as a seemingly realistic amount of money to commit based on our local economy.

Following is the report from the Christian Children’s Fund (CCF) office in Dominica as to how these funds are being used:

“Snack is provided twice a week at the school – Tuesdays and Fridays –
-Purchases are: cheese, peanut butter, butter, eggs, tuna, jam, sausage, bread, juice, tea, flour, oats, cream of wheat [this fed a class of 34 children this past school year!!]

On one day the children are given a choice of cheese sandwiches or bread & sausage or bread and eggs with tea or juice. Another day they’re given a choice of bakes and tuna or bakes and cheese or bread and jam/peanut butter and another time a choice of cream of wheat or oats. The snacks are rotated.

A special Education class (for specially challenged children) is held once a week at that pre-school and lunch is provided to them also. Purchases are rice, peas, chicken, the makings for soup, ground provisions.

These children have often gone hungry during the day. In a note I received from Connie Williams, teacher at Crayfish River, she writes, “It has been recognized that on the days when snack is prepared at school, we receive the highest attendance.”

The aforementioned CCF report further states:

” The pre-school teacher is looking to provide more snacks as well as improve the building that houses the preschool. Below are their needs:

  1. a healthy snack 3 times a week
  2. Lunch for whole day sessions
    (parents will do the food Preparation)
  3. painting of the walls(It’s peeling off)
  4. tiling of the floor
  5. building needs a front door (The one that is there now is rotting)
  6. a cupboard for cleaning supplies
  7. washrooms need to be complete
  8. supplies for learning
  9. Hurricane Dean took away their Play area outside”

At present, the Growing Places Advisory Board is discussing the feasibility of increasing the amount we send to $200 per month. The question of whether or not to do this depends on whether we are able to maintain that level of donation on an on-going basis. To that end we seek donors who are able to commit to an annual contribution, in addition to one time contributors.

There are several ways in which to become involved:

Enter the Pumpkin Carving Contest being held at Growing Places Creative Learning Center this Halloween!

Attend our Taste of Dominica dinner in February, where you will learn more about this amazing country (Do-mi-NEE-ca , not to be confused with the Dominican Republic)

Send your tax deductible contribution payable to Growing Places. Please indicate whether you intend to commit on an annual basis.

This is an opportunity for us to truly make a difference in the world. I think we would be hard pressed to find a more efficient use of our dollars! Please join us!! (8-8-08)


1935686_140419904159_7382897_nGrowing Places Receives Makeover by Community Youth

Anyone driving down Dansville’s Battle Street this summer will notice that Growing Places is getting a face lift, in large part due to some of the young people in this community who have had little success in the current job market. Feeling the need to make a contribution of some kind, they have presented themselves for volunteer service in furthering the cause of making the world a better place. (7-20-09)

2nd Annual Taste of Dominica to be held

Preparations are underway for the 2nd Annual Taste of Dominica, sponsored by the Advisory Board of Growing Places Creative Leaning Center in Dansville. For four years now, Growing Places Kids have corresponded with the children of Crayfish River Preschool in Dominica, West Indies. Several times a year the children exchange letters and artwork, sharing of themselves, their likes and dislikes, families, customs, celebrations, seasons, habitat…. Friendships develop and the children come to love one another as in their sweet innocence, they fully accept one another without concern for skin color or way of life.

An annual shipment of books and supplies during the holiday season led to the acknowledgment that malnutrition, suffered by so many of the children in that part of the world, so interferes with learning that it made more sense to redirect gifting to their nutritional needs. “Some children only eat one meal in the evening. There is no breakfast or lunch. They walk miles to school and back home for lunch, only to find nothing there. Then they walk back to school and suffer until they walk back home for supper. There just is NO food at times…” Ruth Witte, Director of Growing Places, learned from a Peace Corp Volunteer when she visited Dominica in 2005.

It was in response to this need that Growing Places pioneered efforts to address the more basic problem of malnutrition suffered by the children of their sister school. In February of 2008, Growing Places spearheaded a feeding program for their Dominican friends. By the end of 2008, numerous local friends of Growing Places had donated more than $1400, which has provided “…a hot snack for 31 children twice a week at the school – Tuesdays and Fridays. Purchases are: cheese, peanut butter, butter, eggs, tuna, jam, sausage, bread, juice, tea, flour, oats, cream of wheat. On one day the children are given a choice of cheese sandwiches or bread & sausage or bread and eggs with tea or juice. Another day they’re given a choice of bakes and tuna or bakes and cheese or bread and jam/peanut butter and another time a choice of cream of wheat or oats. The snacks are rotated. A special Education class (for specially challenged children) is held once a week at that pre-school and lunch is provided to them also. Purchases are rice, peas, chicken, the makings for soup, ground provisions”, reported Cynthie Tavernier-Jervier, Sponsor Relations Manager at Christian Children’s Fund (C.C.F.), Caribbean. C.C.F., a critical benefactor to the island’s people, agreed to administer the program at Witte’s request. Today, Growing Places continues to seek funding through local civic groups and individuals to enable the continuation of nutrition in Crayfish River Preschool.

“It is our fervent hope to increase the amount we are able to send, not only so that the children may receive at least one healthy “snack” daily, but to assist in making the necessary repairs to the building to ensure the children’s safety.” Damage from Hurricane Dean in 2007 continues to make areas of the preschool unsafe.

To this end, Growing Places will be hosting the 2nd Annual Taste or Dominica on Friday, April 24, 2009 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church from 5:00-7:00 pm. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door $7.00 for 13 & older, $5.00 for 4-12, Free for 3 & younger.

Beth Symeslatini, member of Growing Places’ Advisory Board, and coordinator for the event explains, “All proceeds will benefit the Crayfish River Feeding Program which provides several meals a week to children who otherwise would go without. In addition to assisting a world neighbor and enjoying Dominican food, you will have the opportunity to learn about another culture and the friendships being forged between the children of Dansville and Crayfish River. Sharing a meal is one of the surest ways to build relationships. The Taste of Dominica Dinner is a wonderful way for you to strength our community locally and globally. We look forward to feeding you!”.

Project Dominica

Regeneration: A Show of Hands

Growing Places Creative Learning Center has been providing a quality alternative to preschool since 1995, and incorporated as a not for profit organization in 2001. In 2005, we expanded our programming to create a sense of community among women, offering opportunities for personal discovery and growth in a nurturing environment.

This past year we were given the space to create a haven for women to gather and share and grow. We currently offer monthly book, writing, and knitting groups. Over the years we have had numerous, albeit sporadic events involving several of the talented artists in Livingston County. Yet our Women’s Retreat remains relatively undiscovered. We charge nominal fees commensurate with the economic climate of the area. Given our very limited financial resources we have yet to be able to advertise as much as necessary, to have the involvement required to offer the breadth and frequency of programming that is our goal.IMG_5134

Regeneration: A Show of Hands is a multimedia performance by 3 artists: sculptor, storyteller and musician; about personal transformation and healing. This is a perfect reflection of what Growing Places Tree Top Haven (Woman’s Retreat) offers to women of Dansville and surrounding communities. Regeneration: A Show of Hands will serve as the kickoff event for our 2010 activities. We feel certain that this performance will help to increase our exposure so that we are able to offer a greater selection of artistic and personal growth activities. It is our hope to receive full funding for this performance, and that through this event, we will draw enough women to become involved with future activities to be able to expand our programs to involve yet more artists.

Growing Places to hold 3rd annual Night of 1000 Pumpkins October

As Halloween approaches, preparations are underway for the 3rd annual Night of 1000 Pumpkins at Growing Places Creative Learning Center. Samantha Gibson, a Growing Places Advisory Board member and transplant from New Paltz, NY, spearheaded the event in 2007. Her dream is to have the widespread community involvement that New Paltz has enjoyed for years.

The little ones at Growing Places are not the only enthusiastic participants. In previous years, various church and high school organizations have joined in the fun as well, winning prizes donated by numerous community-oriented businesses. This year promises a much greater turn-out as word of mouth by former contestants and new advocates for this project spreads.

This community-wide celebration and fund raising event benefits the Crayfish River Preschool in Dominica, as well as our own local food pantry. Everyone is invited to join in the fun. Bring your carved/painted/decorated masterpieces for judging Friday, October 30th from 12-6pm. There is an entrance fee of $1 and one can of food. Categories include Adult, age 16 and up; Youth, age 9-16; Child ages 3-8. Prizes are donated by area businesses and there will be a 50/50 cash prize from entrance fees for Best in Show. Pumpkins will be on display and refreshments served in the Growing Places Garden following the Halloween Parade. Donations are gratefully accepted.

A Few Ideas:

  • Transform a plain pumpkin into a work of art.
  • Carve traditional sorts of faces, words, designs.
  • Use a non-Halloween theme.
  • Incorporate pumpkin shape and markings into your design.
  • Disguise the pumpkin as another variety of fruit.
  • Dress up your pumpkin (paint face, add accessories)
  • Incorporate pompoms, pipe cleaners, string, googly eyes, glitter, and other craft materials, making sure they are well adhered
  • Use other vegetables to create facial features and hair
  • Carve or paint scenery, animals, famous people, landmarks… (10-09)


Garden expansion

During these days of economic hardship, people are finding it it more difficult to pay the skyrocketing cost of produce. It makes sense to pool resources and work together to help provide for better nutrition at less cost.

Movement is afoot to expand the existing children’s garden at Growing Places in Dansville to create a community garden. The idea is to make space available for those who do not have the opportunity to garden in their own back yards.

A community garden provides access to fresh produce and plants. This garden will provide an opportunity for people of all ages to socialize while participating in a meaningful way in support of one another. Friendships created by working toward a common goal, connection to the environment, and satisfaction of improving the community provide further fruits of labor.

The current plan is to relocate fencing on the property and reorganize the existing garden. Planters may be used individually or communally, utilizing the concept of square foot gardening to make the most of limited space.

One time donations of lumber, soil, tools, and labor are needed to get this project off the ground.

The hope is that once the garden becomes established, a larger parcel of land will become available, more people will become involved, and it will further benefit the community by providing yet another reason to relocate to Dansville.

People who seek community involvement, who love to garden and would like to share their expertise, seek to reduce the family food budget, and provide food support for those in need are encouraged, to attend the planning meeting being held at Growing Places on Battle St in Dansville, Tuesday March 9 at 7pm. (3-10)

Earth Hour

A group of representatives from Growing Places went before the Dansville Village Board to propose making Earth Hour a Community Event. As a result, Mayor William Dixon made the following proclamation:

  • Whereas, this hour has been designated as “Earth Hour” to remind everyone that, by working together, our community can make a positive impact in the fight against climate change;
  • Whereas, cities and states across the country are joining with Dansville to raise awareness and demonstrate our nation’s commitment to fighting climate change by supporting “Earth Hour,” and;
  • Whereas, the Village of Dansville will turn off the lights during “Earth Hour”;
  • Whereas, we are setting forth a bold vision for Dansville to work toward solutions to the escalating climate crisis and protect our future and that of future generations;
  • Now, therefore, I, the Mayor, do hereby proclaim, March 27, 2010 from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. as “Earth Hour” in Dansville, NY and call upon all residents of this great Village to join me in supporting the aims and goals of this effort.

William Dixon, Mayor

Harvest Festival collaboration with Noyes Hospital and Dansville Daycare Providers (11-10)



Growing Places celebrates tenth anniversary: A dream grows from seed to blossoming kids

By Kay Thomas
Special to the Express

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.



Caterpillar Dreams Initiated

Caterpillar Dreams

Nominated for Earth Day Award

Earth Day Projects Collage

Livingston County Environmental Management Council

Over a decade ago, Ruth Witte of Dansville, NY, founded Growing Places, a nursery school and community center offering a variety of programming for community members of all ages and backgrounds. From the beginning, Ruth has been committed to incorporating environmental awareness into all of her programming.

Growing Places Creative Learning Center is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide quality enrichment to children, parents, grandparents, and community members in the areas of creative and personal development with emphasis on environmental and social responsibility. -Growing Places Mission Statement, approved 2001

The nursery school curriculum that Ruth has developed integrates the exploration of the natural world with stories, music, art, gardening, and creative play. Ruth believes that children have an understanding about the truth of the natural world. Her role is not to convey information to children but to provide the environment and the opportunity for children to discover this truth within themselves and in the world around them. The opportunity for enrichment is extended to the families of her students through regular special events. Because Growing Places is a volunteer organization, family participation in the programs is necessary but rewarding for those involved. Outside of the nursery school program, Ruth invites and inspires community awareness and involvement in earth care. For a comprehensive list of the activities Ruth has created and implemented for her students, their families, and the community at large, see the table on the following page.

The presence of Growing Places in our community is an achievement for which many community members are grateful. Growing Places is unique in this region providing a haven to learn and grow through experience. Its philosophy and mission are the foundation for activities promoting earth care in our community and in the daily lives of all who are touched by Ruth’s vision. Over the last 17 years, Ruth Witte has volunteered thousands of hours of her time, directly impacting over 500 community members, including community groups such as the Dansville High School Environmental Club (The Environmental Wackos), Genesee Valley Quaker Meeting, and local Girl Scouts. Ruth has had an immeasurable influence by instilling in children, their families, and the wider community a sense of appreciation, interconnectedness, and stewardship of the earth.

Respectfully submitted by

Suzanne Blackburn and Beth SymesLatini,

Members of Growing Places Advisory Board

Growing Places Activities (specific to Earth Education)

Daily Nursery School Activities Gardening in the Growing Places GardenGarden explorationNature and Seasonal Art ProjectsPlant & insect life cyclesHibernation & migrationPainted reusable cloth bags for giftsMaking paperCreating and observing habitats for small wildlifeRegular, open-ended questions about the natural worldChildren’s literature
Annual Nursery School Special Family Events Earth Day CelebrationSimple MealConesus Inlet FieldtripApple Picking FieldtripAlexander’s Tree Farm FieldtripMaple Tree Inn MuseumWinter Solstice CelebrationMother’s Day Tea
Summer Programs for Children ages 3 – 11 My Nature JournalGood Earth ArtPaper MakingBackyard BirdingAntsApple Picking, Apple PieBlueberries GaloreNature Study & CraftsScience Craft & ExperimentsRainforest
Community-wide Events and Activities Growing Places Garden, establishment and maintenanceGarden ClubEarth Hour (Mayoral Proclamation 2010, see attached)Lilac Grove Restoration (2008)Earth Day Community Service Project (2002)Main Street Garden




GP Remodeled

GP Kids Blossom

To Whom it May Concern:

My name is Serena Blackburn, and I am 12 years old. I started going to Growing Places, directed by Ruth Witte, in the year 20O3. I went to preschool at Growing Places when I was 3 and 4 years old and I met other home schoolers there when I was in kindergarten. I think that Mrs. Witte should be awarded an Earth Day Award from the Livingston County Planning Department.

When I was in preschool, Ruth encouraged my class to take care of the earth and took us on a lot of earth-care related field trips. We went to Conesus Inlet where we looked at the plants and animals that live there. We picked up any trash we found in or near the water and learned about the danger of pollution to living things. We also did some service projects in our community such as pruning lilac bushes and picking up trash in a park.

We did a lot of earth-related art projects as well. We painted trees, made rainbow mosaics, and did autumn prints of apples and leaves. We made sculptures out of recycled materials. Thirdly, she would ask us questions about how we could do good things for the earth, such as recycling and buying recycled products.

Mrs. Witte showed her love for nature by painting the walls in the preschool with all sorts of different trees, flowers, grasses, and animals native to this area. Mrs. Witte would write each of her students’ names on a paper leaf and tape it to a tree painted on the wall.

I remember playing and helping Mrs. Witte in the garden. There were all sorts of things planted in the garden like raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and tomatoes. There was also a weeping cherry tree and a small pond with water lilies and small fish. Mrs. Witte loves flowers, especially sunflowers. She has a vine of wisteria flowers spiraling around an archway that leads to the garden and preschool.

All these experiences positively impact my life today. I was taught to be good to the earth at a young age, so now being good to the earth is kind of a habit for me. When I think about a career in my adult life, my number one goal is to invent a car or other mode of transportation that reduces global warming and runs on waste products.

Overall, I think Ruth Witte plays a very big part helping young minds be good to the environment. That is why I think that Mrs. Witte should be awarded an Earth Day Award in 2012.


Serena Blackburn (2003-2005)

Former Students, Via Facebook Website

Lets take a trip back in time. The year was 1999: a time before the iPhone was even imagined, a time when the only computer animated movie you had to choose from was Toy Story and even more surprisingly, a time when there was no such thing as a preschool program at Dansville Central School. Luckily enough I, at the fine age of four years old was sent to experience the wonderful world of Growing Places and all that it had to offer. I can remember thinking it would be like something you would see on Saved by the Bell or one of those other corny “school” shows that I would see on tv as a child. Well to my surprise this in fact was preschool. There were no desks, there was no homework and even better yet, there wasn’t even a school! In those days Growing Places occurred at Ruth’s home. My fondest memories are of exploring her gardens, learning about nature, making apple sauce in her kitchen and better yet, getting to play with all of the new toys in her basement. Although this might sound like all fun and games I can assure you, Growing Places is something much more than that. Ruth gave me the first book I learned to read from and taught me the life skills that have impacted the person I am today. Growing Places is one of the most unique and creatively enriching learning establishments I have seen to this day and is an experience I would certainly recommend for anybody’s child. At an age where there is so much to be learned I couldn’t imagine a better place or a better location for a child to have their preschool experience. P.S. Ruth, I will still always cherish the medal you gave me at the end of the school year for overcoming my fear of bugs 😉

-Alexander Johnson, Former Student

I have the extreme privilege in saying that I was in the very first group of kids that Ruth Witte welcomed into her home (in 1995) to not only look after, but to teach and help them grow. I remember vaguely arts and crafts all over, a tree house in the back yard, and happiness everywhere. With four kids of her own and at all different ages it still wasn’t a challenge to take 5-7 extra kids into her life and home. Ruth has a PhD in motherhood. Growing Places with Ruth and her family, was an environment that was safe, fun, full of its small adventures and a place where I felt comfortable and able to help grow as a child, and as an artist. It is subconsciously what helped me become the man and artist I am today. I have graduated Alfred University with a BFA and certifications in business management. My main practices are Glass blowing and Photography with skills also in; mold making, welding and ceramics! – -How kids grow up is what I feel they will eventually in some ways become. Obviously people change, but they’re not going to change the better, decent parts of themselves. The very things that positively made them learn and grow. The very happiness and goodness that Ruth Witte helps her kids thrive in at Growing Places.

Nate Wilson, Former Student

Growing places is one of the most amazing things that our community has to offer. It has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first year at growing places was in Ruth’s home (where my sister went) , and my second year was in the building that we are so lucky to have now. (where my brother went) Some of my fondest memories took place here such as; learning to pretend to be different animals, learning to make applesauce, going to the pancake house, making my first friends, learning to draw and use scissors, and learning to plant flowers. The experience didn’t stop after preschool was over though. The annual community events were something that my family looked forward to every year, especially the pumpkin carving contest. I loved going to these events and seeing Ruth, and the kids, and the community that growing places has created so much that I started volunteering when I was in 6th grade. Now I am a senior and still can’t get enough of this place! The kids, the garden, the families, the harmony, and the happiness here are amazing and I can’t imagine myself ever moving away from this little community. Growing places is weaved into my entire childhood. I recommend growing places to everyone, it’s an experience that you and your children will never forget or regret.

Lindsay Rachelle Hilligus-Mehlenbacher, Former Student