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Smart Start Rowan showcases new location with grand opening, fall festival

By Susan Shinn

Smart Start Rowan

Last week was a time of new beginnings for Smart Start Rowan, with a grand opening on Oct. 21 and a fall festival for local families, children, and child care providers on Oct. 25.

The agency serving Rowan County children from birth to age 5 recently moved to a new facility at 1329 S. Jake Alexander Blvd. The two events served to acquaint folks with the new location.

The Ritchie family renovated a building just in front of the Cheerwine headquarters, and is leasing that space to Smart Start Rowan. Shirley Ritchie, the mother of Cliff Ritchie, Cheerwine’s CEO, has played a critical role in the organization throughout its entire existence.

During last Thursday’s grand opening, the conference room was named in honor of Cliff Ritchie.

Amy Brown, Smart Start’s executive director, said that none of the agency’s efforts would be possible without its board of directors, staff and volunteers.

“We work hard to make sure every child enters school healthy and ready for success,” Brown said.

Smart Start Rowan collaborates with community partners, Brown said, to identify the needs of young children, improve the quality of early learning environments and help make child care more affordable and accessible, support developmental screenings, promote early literacy programs and provide parents and families with resources and information for their children.

Phillip Barton, board chairman, started serving on the Smart Start Rowan board when he was director of Rowan Public Library.

“A lot of what Smart Start Rowan does meshes with the work of the library with young children,” Barton said. “It’s always been a good mutual relationship. It starts with the youngest children. You grow readers, and you grow students. I’ve always been a firm believer of the impact of early childhood learning.”

In her remarks, Jane Welch, a board member who serves as community relations and development committee chair, recognized Cliff Ritchie and Shirley Ritchie for their efforts with Smart Start Rowan.

“Shirley is the reason that Smart Start Rowan is here today,” Welch said.

“We’re glad we could help,” Cliff Ritchie said.

“I love what they’ve done to the building,” Shirley Ritchie said. “It really has turned out to be what they needed. From the beginning, Smart Start has been a blessing. It’s been a wonderful part of the community.”

In his blessing of the building, the Rev. Timothy Bates, also a Smart Start Rowan board member, noted that the building represented a “new beginning, new hope, new joy, new peace and new relationships” for Smart Start Rowan.

Saturday’s event helped introduce local families and child care providers to the new facility. Nearly 100 people attended a fall festival with carnival-themed games and activities.

“It went well,” Brown said Monday. “We had a good turnout and a lot of fun. Everybody seemed to like our new location. It’s so easy to find and it’s close to the interstate and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. This was the first year we’ve had such a big parking lot, so we got to do a lot of activities outside. It was great to have the extra space.”

Not everything is complete yet, however. The agency is raising funds to furnish a children’s playroom. At its previous location, the agency lost its playroom because of funding and space cuts. The new playroom is a large, open space, with framed photographs of children already on the walls, and testimonials of those who’ve used the playroom previously. A wishing well has been set up in this room for donations. There’s also a poster with plans for furnishings and accessories for the room. Brown estimates it will cost $5,000 to purchase the furniture and accessories that are needed.

For more information about the playroom project or about Smart Start Rowan, call 704-630-9085 or visit www.rowan-smartstart.org.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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