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Children's Academy stays strong in her heart

Published February 16, 2007


Ask any parents about the first day they dropped their child off at day care, and they'll vividly recall how apprehension weighed heavy on their hearts.

Kristen Norse is no different, yet any fears she may have had were assuaged by a self-described "little Argentinian" whose body doesn't seem big enough to contain one of Brandon's biggest hearts.

Like she has done so many times in the past 25 years, Susana Blake and her Children's Academy staff assured Norse her little Callista would be fine.

Norse walked Callista into the breakfast room at the academy and waited for the teachers to hand her a sippy cup. Instead, she received a cup with no lid.

"She's going to spill that," Norse cautioned.

They told Norse that even if Callista did spill it, that would be okay. The calm, the confidence, the understanding and - most of all - the love let Norse know that she had no reason to worry.

"It's the memory of me going through that first step," said Blake, who raised two boys. "I know what that child needs and I give it to that child because that's what my child needed on that first day: to be loved and to be safe."

The genuine compassion and tireless care that guided Blake during 25 years at Children's Academy has created a generation of admiring parents and thankful kids. With Blake turning over the reins of her center to new owners late last year, those same supportive parents and alumni will gather Feb. 25 at Rotary's Camp Florida to celebrate Blake's contributions to their lives and the community.

Blake's endearing qualities may seem surprising to those outside of the Children's Academy family, but it's easy to discern how much she adores her work and "her kids."

"If it's something I need to do for my own kids, I'll do it for their children," said Blake, 58. "If it's climbing up a tree to get them down or teaching them to be more loving to the world, I'll do it.

"They trust me with their child, so it's my baby, too."

Norse is eager to get the word out to former parents and alumni about the celebration, but the response so far has been impressive. Everyone who learns of the event is offering to help with donations, including the Brunchery, Brocato's Sandwich Shop and the Berry Family.

Of course, the humble Blake says she is overwhelmed by the outpouring and is certain she hasn't earned such recognition. Norse and other supporters would beg to differ.

"Basically, she has thrown her heart and soul into Children's Academy," said Norse, who is one of about 30 parents who have planned the celebration. "It's been a total work of love for her. It wasn't just a place to drop your kids off.

"You knew they would be safe. You knew you would hear from her whether there was a small scrape or an emotional outburst. Her and her staff, they're all just wonderful. You knew she would be taken care of as if I had been home with her all day, probably better."

Norse said Blake even continues to reach out to children long after they have left Children's Academy. Norse's younger sister, Katie, attended the academy and Kristin said her mom received notes from Blake for years.

"It doesn't mean they left me or I left them just because they went away from that preschool," Blake explained. "I remember birthdays and graduations and they remember to let me know about weddings and showers and even the sad moments.

"When they get their driver's licenses, they come by and say, 'Watch out.' It's not something I do, it's just family."

Although Blake sold the academy to Baldwin Sterling, she continues to work there every morning. Her primary reason for making the transition is that she wanted to ensure the academy would be in good hands so the legacy can continue.

Still, the sale wasn't easy.

"You shouldn't use the past tense," Blake said. "The pain is still as fresh as the day I signed the papers. It continues to be difficult, but at the same time, I'm still there."

Where else would she want to be?

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa & State section. He can be reached at or 813 226-3406.


If you go

Susana Blake/Children's Academy Celebration

When: Feb. 25, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Rotary's Camp Florida, 1915 Camp Florida Road

Admission: $2 per person (facility charge)

Details: Children's Academy students, alumni, parents or community members who have been touched by Blake are encouraged to attend. For more information or to make a donation, contact Kristin Norse at (813) 468-1239.


[Last modified February 15, 2007, 07:48:05]

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