Partners In Learning director marks quarter-century milestone

Published 12:05 am Sunday, September 10, 2023

SALISBURY — Over 100 Partners In Learning staff, donors, family and community members gathered Thursday, Aug. 24, for a surprise party to celebrate Executive Director Norma Honeycutt’s 25 years of service. 

Board members Celia Jarrett and Bill Wagoner announced the naming of the facility’s Outdoor Adventure Forest as “Norma’s Way” in her honor. 

Plans were revealed for its entrance to be marked with a natural arbor, bench seating and gardens. This arbor will welcome children and families onto the handicap-accessible pathway that will wind around the Adventure Forest. 

Honeycutt’s vision has always been for children to experience nature as a way to learn, grow and heal. This gift brought Honeycutt to tears as she saw her vision unfolding. 

The Adventure Forest will have a chicken coop, outdoor classroom, raised garden beds and an Excavation Exploration giant sandpit donated by Osterhus Outdoors. There are plans for additional adventures, including a ninja course, farm-based exploration, a greenhouse, art exploration, a music garden and many others.

Honeycutt recalled her time at Partners In Learning and what it meant. She served on the Rowan Partnership for Children Board of Directors, which operated the Partners in Learning Child Development Center.

“During one of the meetings, the board chair announced that the center director was resigning,” Honeycutt said. “One of the board members I had become friends with asked me to consider applying. After much prayer, I decided to go ahead and send in my resumé.”

To Honeycutt’s astonishment, the board chair called for an interview and offered her the job within 24 hours.

“I spent that entire night crying and praying about whether I should take the position,” Honeycutt said. “When I woke up in the morning, I had a peace that passed understanding to lead Partners In Learning.”

Honeycutt stepped onto the campus for the first time on Aug. 23, 2018. 

“It seems like just yesterday and a lifetime ago,” Honeycutt said. “Dr. Shirley Ritchie shared her vision of what Partners In Learning meant to the community. Dr. Ritchie told me it would be a diverse place where children with special needs could be integrated into the classroom with typical children. She also said she wanted it affordable for all families of different income levels.”

Honeycutt added that there was something about Ritchie’s spirit that drove her passion for this organization. 

“It has not been easy,” Honeycutt said. “As a matter of fact, there have been many challenges and obstacles to overcome. But it has all been worth it. I have seen so many miracles happen to change the lives of families and children.”

Honeycutt described her time with the organization as a privilege, adding that she believes Partners In Learning’s growth would align with Ritchie’s vision.

“Shirley would not even recognize the organization today,” Honeycutt said. “We have far exceeded even her imagination, but she would be proud. In a few short weeks, we will take the next step and open a new facility to house our original child care with all our support services.”

When the organization moves to its new location, it will leave behind 25 years of memories on the Catawba College campus.

“(We) will step into a future full of hope and opportunities,” Honeycutt said. “I have always said that I wanted to change the world. We all have the chance to do so, and the expansion is another step in that direction.” 

Many people had things to say about Honeycutt and her dedication to Partners In Learning and the children and families in our community. 

“Norma has been the hands, feet and heart of Partners In Learning for 25 years,” Board chair Celia Jarrett said. “She has stayed true to its founder’s vision that all young children learn together, building an appreciation for each one’s unique abilities. Norma has nurtured generations of children, many of whom have brought their children to Partners in Learning or have returned to work there.”

Jarrett is Ritchie’s daughter.  

Cassie Karriker, clinical director and long-time Partners In Learning staff member, gave her heartfelt thanks to Honeycutt. 

“Norma has made it her life’s mission to provide quality, inclusive early education to all children and families,” Karriker said. “Most people know that if you know anything about Norma, you might not know that she advocates on the state level to bring better wages and support for her staff. She encourages her staff to continue their education and has made ways for Partners In Learning to financially support their education through the state’s TEACH program.” 

Karriker came to Partners with just a credential in Early Childhood, but next year, she will have her master’s degree with zero student debt. 

“It’s important to her that her staff have an education, and they better their chances for a higher wage for themselves and their families,” Karriker said. “Some people don’t know she has sat at a family’s home until nine at night to help a single mother raise multiple children with special needs. To help her learn effective ways to get them to bed and for the mom to make time for herself. Norma has been more than just the director of a daycare; she has been life-changing for so many.” 

Bill Wagoner, board member, alumni family, and project manager for the new facility, summed up Honeycutt’s personality and drive by saying, “Norma is a wonderful force of nature, letting nothing stand in a child’s path to their full self.”