MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Who needs cartoons when you and your family can “Saddle Up” for a Saturday-morning party at MTSU?

Volunteers are dusting off their boots and corralling all kinds of animals for a morning full of amazing family fun Saturday, April 21, to support the children of the Ann Campbell Early Learning Center at the annual “Saddle Up” fundraiser.

Organizers moved the event, now in its 11th year, from its usual midsummer date to include more MTSU students, faculty and staff in the party and make it more fun for area families. Even children in the Rutherford County and Murfreesboro city schools systems have special invitations to “saddle up,” and all will get a hearty cowhands’ welcome from some of MTSU’s finest representatives, the (usually) blue-jacketed Student Ambassadors.

“There are several MTSU organizations that are going to volunteer for this event to help make it a success,” says ACE Center director Christy Davis. “We’ve even moved it from Murphy Center to our Tennessee Livestock Center, because we figured we might as well fully embrace the name ‘Saddle Up’ and get everyone out onto the arena floor.”

She adds that the 8:30-11:30 a.m. schedule will feature a live bee observatory, an interactive milking exhibit, “Moozie the Cow” of the Children’s Kindness Network, a corn sensory pool, drumming and dance sessions, and miniature ponies among its 25-plus activities, as well as the traditional silent auction.

The Livestock Center is located at 1720 Greenland Drive, and parking will be free and plentiful for guests. “Saddle Up” tickets are $10 per person or a $50 maximum per family, and admission includes a light breakfast supplied by local businesses. Suggested attire, as always, is jeans, boots and cowboy hats.

Tickets are available at http://www.mtalumni.com/saddleup, the ACE Learning Center’s offices at 206 N. Baird Lane, and at the door. There are still a few table sponsorships remaining at levels ranging from $250 to $5,000; contact the center at 615-898-2458 for more information.

This year’s silent auction will feature tickets and/or passes to attractions including Walt Disney World, Holiday World, Dollywood, the Frist Art Museum, the Murfreesboro Center for the Arts, the Cannon County Playhouse, the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Zoo, the Adventure Science Center and the Creative Discovery Museum; tickets to Nashville Predators games, along with signed hockey pucks; certificates for local businesses including Bell Jewelers, Breathe Easy Salt Rooms, Pet Safari and Shacklett Photography; MTSU football, baseball and basketball tickets and more. The list of auction contributors is available at http://www.mtsu.edu/acelearningcenter.

The annual Saddle Up event supports ACE Learning Center projects alongside funds from tuition, MTSU, the United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties, the Charity Circle of Murfreesboro and private donations.

“The funds raised from this event allow us to continue to provide the services that we provide daily, and we’re also going to use a portion of the money raised to add to our new wheelchair-accessible natural playground, which we unveiled last August,” Davis says.

“There are still some things that we definitely want to add to that playground that we obviously just didn’t have the funds to be able to purchase initially. The playground has been great. Our children absolutely love it. We play outside quite a bit, and so much more learning takes place on our playground now.”

The nonprofit ACE Learning Center is an inclusive facility for children 12 months to 6 years old with and without developmental delays, allowing them to play together and learn from each other. Teachers at the center plan activities that help each child develop good communication, social, cognitive and motor skills.

Ann Campbell, a faculty member in MTSU’s Department of Elementary and Special Education, established what was then known as Project Help in 1983, creating what would become one of Tennessee’s first inclusive early childhood programs. Campbell died in 2011, and the center, now expanded from its main MTSU facility on North Baird Lane into additional space in the university’s Fairview Building, was renamed for her in 2014.

MTSU students are integral to the ACE Learning Center and its young charges. They work and volunteer in the center’s four classrooms throughout the academic year, interact with and play alongside the children, and support the teachers by assisting with daily activities.

To learn more about Saddle Up, donate silent-auction items or become a sponsor for the event, contact Davis at christy.davis@mtsu.edu.

For more information about the Ann Campbell Early Learning Center and its work, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/acelearningcenter or call 615-898-2458.

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