- Associated Press - Friday, July 11, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Butterflies fluttered around Middle Way House’s Nature Exploration Classroom as the tune of metal xylophones and excited laughter filled the air.

The classroom, equipped with musical instruments, water games, a chalkboard, flowers and edible plants, officially opened Thursday. The classroom will provide a sustainable place for children whose lives have been touched by domestic violence to learn, grow and just “be kids,” Middle Way House Executive Director Toby Strout said.

“We don’t feel like it’s finished, but we’re opening it up. After today, it will get some very heavy use I’m sure,” Strout said before the classroom’s ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.

“Kids now have a place to explore nature and learn about themselves,” Strout told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1mRIVWx ).

The classroom project began last fall and was made possible through the Mary Kay and Arbor Day foundations, Bloomington Valley Nursery, Greenleaf Nursery, B.G. Hoadley Quarry and Working Designs Landscape and Architecture, Strout said.

Nature classrooms are traditionally located in public areas, places where victims of domestic violence do not necessarily feel safe, so this project is vital to helping clients, Mary Kay representative Tracy Boite said.

“To bridge that gap, that’s why Mary Kay helped,” Boite said.

Middle Way House’s classroom is one of 20 nationwide that Mary Kay helped create this year, in an effort to end domestic violence.

“We hope they’ll learn and play in it, but ultimately, we want them to heal,” Boite said.

The classroom includes a few local edible plants, including blackberries for the kids and birds to snack on while enjoying the space, Working Design’s Alexis Wreden said.

“I love seeing the urban space claimed and utilized in ways that brings nature in,” Wreden said. “And everybody can do this.”

The classroom’s color scheme was designed to blend in with the graffiti or a neighboring building, Wreden said.

“It’s all very contextual,” Wreden said. “Paying attention to surrounding space, that’s very green, even if you can’t eat it.”

The concept of urban renewal plays a big part in making the Nature Exploration Classroom a “green” effort, Middle Way House volunteer and education coordinator Lauren Robe said.

“This space wasn’t going to be used for anything,” Robe said. “Now it’s a place where kids can learn, play and consume local edible foods.”

Robe has already seen improvements in the lives of Middle Way House’s clients through the Rooftop garden, an urban agricultural garden that provides hundreds of pounds of food for those in need.

“Although we’ve dedicated this space to Middle Way House, we’re really dedicating it to the kids, and their futures,” Robe said.

Toward the end of the ceremony, Boite presented Strout with a check for $20,000 from the Mary Kay Foundation. The money will go toward Middle Way House’s mission to provide a green outlet for its clients, Strout said.

“Donations are down for social services,” Strout said. “This will go toward keeping it all going.”

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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