Home is where the heart is at Ruth Staples Child Development Lab

Ruth Staples Child Development Lab children color on heart.
Children from the Ruth Staples Child Development Laboratory add their artistic touch to "Fond of the Family Farm" last summer.

Home is where the heart is at Ruth Staples Child Development Lab

11 Oct 2017    By Brad Stauffer | CEHS

You got to have heart. No, really. We’ve got to get a heart! That was the spontaneous rally cry of the Ruth Staples Child Development Laboratory community last week at the Nebraska by Heart open house in Haymarket Park. Parents and staff of the child center, located on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s East Campus and part of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies, decided at the last minute to bid on one of the hearts from the public art project that commemorates Nebraska’s 150th anniversary of statehood.

heat arriving at ruth staples child development lab
Fond of the Family Farm” heart arrived at the Ruth Staples Child Development Laboratory on the evening of Oct. 8

Parent Mackenzie Savaiano, assistant professor of practice in Special Education and Communication Disorders, had been thinking it would be great for Ruth Staples to have one of the several hearts that had been on display on East Campus. When she bumped into the center’s director, Jenny Leeper Miller, at the public viewing Thursday night, Leeper Miller was thinking the same thing.

“That’s all I needed to hear,” said Savaiano. “There were several other Ruth Staples families at the open house, and I said, ‘We can make it happen, Jenny. We can do it!’” And in less than 24 hours they did just that.

The children of Ruth Staples, ranging from ages 18 months to 5 years, got well acquainted with their resident hearts over the summer. Lesson plans had been created around the hearts, including painting, color matching, math, literacy, science inquiry and mapping concepts. The children looked forward to visiting the hearts on a weekly basis and became enamored with them. But none more than “Fond of the Family Farm” created by Nichole Tichota.

Tichota was inspired by her family farm and the barn she spent “many a day working, playing and daydreaming in.” She created a heart that the public could interact with. Designed like a coloring book, it has a dry-erase finish so people can color the landscape. It was the reason her heart was such a hit with the kids from Ruth Staples.

families are excited to have 'Fond of the Family Farm' in the child development lab
Ruth Staples families are excited to have “Fond of the Family Farm” in the child development lab on East Campus. Bidding for the heart went from an idea on the evening of Oct. 5 to the heart greeting children and families in Ruth Staples entryway on Oct. 9.

Fond of the Family was the heart of choice, but how could they raise the money? From the open house, Leeper Miller sent out an email to parents and staff of the center, and posted an appeal on the Ruth Staples Facebook page. An hour after the idea had hatched at the open house, they had received $2,000 in pledges. By the next morning it was up to $5,000. When Savaiano was ready to start bidding at the Friday night auction, she had over $7,500 in pledges.

“We had to gain momentum pretty quickly, because we just decided the night before the auction that we wanted to get a heart,” said Savaiano. “We got pledges from families really fast and pledges kept coming in right up until the auction. We felt very confident when the auction started that we were in a great place to get our heart.”

Although previous hearts had sold for between $1,500-1,750, Fond of the Family Farm proved more popular. The bidding got up to $5,000 before Savaiano secured the heart for Ruth Staples.

“Ruth Staples really is a family,” Savaiano said. “Everyone chipped in to make it happen. Thirty different families contributed.” Including a 5-year-old graduate of the program who emptied her piggy bank to support the purchase.

Children were very excited to see the heart greeting them Monday morning when they walked in the building. Eventually, it will find a place in the outdoor classroom where kids can color, draw and write on the heart over and over again.

t-shirt design
During the summer, parents arranged for t-shirts to be made for Ruth Staples children and families. Modeled after the “Fond of the Family Farm” heart, the t-shirts were designed to be colored in by children and families.

“It connects them to the Nebraska by Heart project on a deeper level,” says Leeper Miller. “It shares an example of a community coming together for a positive reason. Children see how we become partners in the learning process and how others help us learn. And, of course, it’s aesthetically beautiful.”

Proceeds from the hearts go to Lead Up, focused on connecting youth to college and career, and Sadie Dog Fund, helping families pay for veterinary services to keep their dogs alive and in their homes.

Tichota has been invited to the next family event at Ruth Staples, where she will share the story of the heart with children and families. It should prove to be a heart to heart talk.


College of Education and Human Sciences
Child, Youth and Family Studies