Handprints of current and past students are staggered upon the outline of a tree on Oct. 2 at Liz Kiffer's daycare. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

A broad, cheerful tree that branches into the past and is growing into the present reaches across a play room wall in Liz Kiffer’s new day care location at the north end of town.

The tree, painted by local artist Jess Davila on a wall of the large, bright room, features colorful “leaves” of hand prints of current and past children who have been part of Kiffer’s day care family.

Kiffer’s daughter Samantha Anderson sat down with Kiffer in their new spacious facility this past Saturday to talk about the tree project.

Kiffer said Anderson, who has worked with Kiffer at the day care for more than 10 years, had the idea to create the tree as a way to make the move from Kiffer’s previous home and day care site of 35 years a little easier.

They have been in the new home for a bit more than a month now, with their 12 day care children following.

“Sam knew I was having a hard time leaving the other place, because we’d had so many kids through the house over the years,” Kiffer said. “It’s kind of our way of bringing them over here, so they’re part of here.”

She added, “It’s been really nice to have the kids come over.”

Kiffer said that she’s had day care kids who are now adults stop by to put their hand prints on the tree, and more who have contacted her to promise to stop by when they come home on college break, or to visit family members for the holidays.

Anderson said anyone who would like to add their or a family member’s print to the tree is welcome to message her through Facebook, or to call her or Kiffer at the day care.

Kiffer said that even though the move was a tough one for her, “it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. I think some of the kids had more of a hard time with it than I did.”

Once the children saw the new space however, Kiffer said “they’ve been so excited.”

She pointed out the huge playroom, the reading nook with a stack of child-sized bean-bag chairs, the couch that spans the entertainment area as well as the cheerful decals on the walls with images and quotes from children’s books.

“Everything we’ve done over here, we’ve done for the kids,” Kiffer said.

The space was designed to be played in with few restrictions, allowing the children to explore the space comfortably, she explained.

“It was exciting for them, because this is their space,” Kiffer said. “There aren’t a whole lot of ‘Nos’ here,” because the entire design was completed with the children in mind.

Some parts of the design were carried out with purchased items, but many parts were designed by Kiffer and Anderson, and then built by Kiffer’s husband Jerry Kiffer.

The couple lives in the upstairs portion of the large building, allowing Liz Kiffer to truly make the place a home, as was her previous location on North Point Higgins Road.

Kiffer said that this month marks 40 years that she has been offering day care for local children. She started at a location on Water Street before moving north.

When asked why she has worked for so many years at the day care with Kiffer, Anderson said, grinning, “I kind of like working with my mother and I really enjoy the kids.”

She added, “I think it just runs in the family — I enjoy watching the kids grow up and they just become part of your own family.”

Kiffer echoed those thoughts, adding, “I think it’s just the kids.”

She explained that, as with parenting, there are of course the challenging days, but then there are the days where — and Anderson finished her sentence with, “they melt your heart.”

Kiffer said, chuckling, “It’s definitely something different every day. No dull moments with day care.”

Kiffer said that Anderson has been putting the word out about the hand print tree on her personal Facebook page, inviting anyone who has come to their day care to stop by to add their print.

Anderson said that there are more branches planned to be added.

Kiffer said that it often is a fun social event when families stop by to add prints to the tree, such as recently when her granddaughter brought friends by. After placing prints on the tree, they stayed for dinner and spent the evening visiting.

“It was really cool,” Kiffer said.

Kiffer described how the hand print tree project has illuminated the heart of her day care business.

“These people who come into our house every single day, five days a week, they become our family. Their kids become part of our family, too, she said. “One thing I’ve learned about with the tree is, I can not see them for a long period of time … but then when they walk into this house, they’re still just part of the day care family.”