Meet our Directors, Teachers & Board Members2020-09-28T18:44:14+00:00

MARISSA RITZ, LCSWCo-Founder & Executive Director
Marissa has been in the field of Social Work for over a decade and has spent much of her career working with individuals, couples, parents and children in an effort to strength family relationships. Marissa holds an Independent Clinical Social Work License and has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Vermont. In addition to her work with Seedlings to Sunflowers, Marissa acts as an Adjunct Professor at the University of New England and provides statewide training for the Sweetser Training Institute.
MEGHANN CARRASCOCo-Founder, Director of Operations & Head Chef
Meghann grew up in South Portland for most of her childhood and eventually moved to Raymond where her Mother bought an old farm house. While her Mother raised her with an incredible understanding of nutrition and health, this is where her love of gardening and food truly began. She grew up with a Sister diagnosed at the time with autism and a cognitive delay. Her sister’s unique needs and food sensitivities challenged her throughout her life to create food that was clean, allergen-free, but still delicious. She has lived a life in non-profits as her…

Marissa’s dream of building a childcare center grew out of her own experience with having children in daycare. Her observation of daycare centers was that there was unending possibility to strengthen families, build connections and encourage children at the youngest possible ages to become stewards of their communities. Marissa visualized an early education center as being a hub where children and families can join together with educators to encourage social, emotional and developmental growth of children. Marissa holds a commitment to bringing parents and caregivers on board to play an integral part of the learning process.

Marissa currently resides in Gorham Maine with her husband who is a Middle School Science Teacher and their two boys. She spends most of her free time exploring, singing, creating and laughing as much as possible.

…her Mother ran a non-profit for much of her teen years for adults with disabilities. She also worked in college for the Bangor YMCA working in the before/after care with children.

Meghann graduated in 2005 from the University of Maine with a degree in Sociology. She was a member of the Green Campus Coalition and has always strived towards a more sustainable life. A couple years later, Meghann acquired her culinary degree from the New England Culinary Institute. She then moved to Colorado and became the Director of Admissions at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts. In Colorado, she was involved with Slow Foods Denver and was heavily involved in their School Garden Project. She spent a lot of her free time building vegetable gardens at various schools in the greater Denver area.

Most recently, Meghann worked for six years here in Maine for a chiropractor where she really took her passion for nutrition to the next level. She is currently pursuing a Certificate in Nutrition from the International Foundation of Nutrition & Health. The chiropractor, she worked for eventually deferred to Meghann for patient supplement needs and nutrition evaluations.

When her first son was born and they started introducing food, Meghann started a blog called “Feeding Bebe” where she explored supporting his development through food with all of you! She has always involved him in food preparation. She has challenged herselt to create food that is both delicious and nutritious. She is now using what she’s learned while just introducing her 5-month-old to food for the first time. Meghann look forward to taking this passion of hers and working on food fears or aversions with your kiddos! She is also very excited to use their incredible green house to teach Seedlings to Sunflower’s children about the life cycle and teach them how to get in the dirt with all of the plants.

Meghan shares a home in Westbrook with her husband Donny, who is a Chef and their two boys. They love to be outdoors as much as possible with their kiddos.

CHARLOTTE JACOBSAssistant Director & Lead Teacher in Seedlings (1-2yr olds)
Charlotte grew up in Scarborough, ME. She is currently attending Southern Maine Community College, majoring in Early Childhood Education. Charlotte has worked with a child care center for the past seven years, working with ages 6 weeks to 2 years. During this time, she was promoted to Assistant Director and did that as well…
CAITLIN DIGGLESAssistant Director & Floating Teacher
Caitlin has a background in volunteer programing, online marketing and design. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Vermont where she expressed her passion for volunteer programming and service learning as the Director of Programs for Volunteers in Action,

…as running her classroom for the past two years there. Charlotte is CPR/First-Aid Certified and a Level 4 on Maine Roads to Quality. Her and her husband have two wonderful kiddos, an 8-year-old girl, a one-year-old boy and a dog!
I’m excited to be coming to Seedlings to Sunflowers because I love to watch children grow and learn using hands on experiences! I also love to give children, even during infancy the chance to learn through exciting sensory activities.
During my free time with my family we enjoy all the natural wonders of Maine! Hiking, swimming at Sebago, camping, gardening at home, and just relaxing with each other!”

overseeing 22 various volunteer programs and their leaders.

She has an extensive background in online marketing from account management, brand and media, consulting, website and graphic design, social media marketing, as well as photo shoot design and styling. Caitlin is currently the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of, where she oversees all facets of her business and online presence.

She is thrilled to be able to bring her marketing, media, design and volunteer programming expertise to the board of Seedlings to Sunflowers. Being a part of a non-profit dedicated to cultivating a lifelong commitment to positive educational experiences for children is an amazing honor. She is thrilled to serve alongside caring, creative, intelligent and passionate individuals whose mission is to help carry out the vision of this wonderful, innovative school.

Caitlin would be overjoyed to send her future children to Seedlings to Sunflowers – a place where she knows they would thrive and where her family would feel supported by their loving community.

SHANA SWENSONSunflower Room (Pre-k)
As Shana enters her tenth year of teaching, she is both thankful and humbled to be a part of such a welcoming and positive environment where the love of learning is being nurtured everyday!

Ever since she was a little girl, Shana knew she wanted to be a teacher. Playing “school” in her basement playroom was just the beginning of her teaching journey…

MEGAN CHARLANDSunflower Room (Pre-K)
Miss Megan came to us in September 2018 after enrolling her 2 daughters in Seedlings to Sunflower and falling in love with our community. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration and has previously worked with children teaching creative movement and ballet classes to 3 and 4 year olds. We are thrilled to have her as one of our Lead Pre-K teachers as she brings her creativity and enthusiasm to preparing our Sunflowers for Kindergarten. Megan lives in Gorham with her husband and 2 daughters, Paige and Sophie.
NICK ZABENKOSunflower Room (Pre-K) & Float
Hi, I’m Nick. I’ve lived around Portland my whole life. I’m energetic and love being outdoors. I’ve have many certifications in and around this field. Working with young kids all the way to he elderly. I’ve had many experiences and feel I can help our future generations grow into shining stars.

…of education and in 2011 received a Masters Degree in Teaching from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR.

Beth has taught elementary school in several states including 4th and 5th grade at Cedaroak Park Primary School in West Linn Oregon, Kindergarten-2nd grade at Lewis & Clark Elementary School in Missoula, Montana, and 4th and 5th grade for Learning Works afterschool at East End Community School in Portland, Maine. For the past few years she has been a private childcare provider for 4 wonderful children ages 21 months to 11 years. Beth is very excited and honored to be part of the Seedlings to Sunflowers community and looks forward to helping support lifelong learners and their families.

In her spare time, she enjoys being with her adorably French husband and their adorably lanky Jack Russell, Gary. She loves being outside and adores hiking, running and spending the summers swimming at her parent’s camp on Little Sebago Lake. She is also eagerly anticipating the arrival of their daughter who is due any day now!

Beth is beyond thrilled to be teaching at Seedlings to Sunflowers and is greatly looking forward to meeting her new students and their families.

In her free time, Marissa loves exploring the near by woods with her two boys ages 2 and 5. Thanks to them she has become an expert bug catcher and is mildly impressive with a butterfly net. Marissa looks forward to sharing her love of learning with her students.

TERESA JAYNESChef de Cuisine
Teresa comes from a background in business with a degree in small business management, most recently having managed a financial practice.

Of Italian heritage, Teresa comes from a long line of people who love to feed people. Her family runs and cooks for the Italian Bazaar in Portland each year. Teresa loves being a part of the Seedlings to Sunflowers Community and is so happy to fill our kiddo’s and staff’s bellies with delicious and nutritious home-cooked food…

MICHELLE GREENLAWLead Teacher, Little Runners (Pre-School)
Michelle has over 20 years of experience in Early Childhood Development. She has her CDA (Child Development Associates) from SMCC and is currently undergoing schooling at Penn Foster University in Early Childhood Education. With her background primarily teaching 3-5 year olds, she is thrilled to be a Lead Teacher in the Little Runners room. Her goal is to provide a safe, healthy, and nurturing environment for children and families to feel welcome.

Michelle lives in Gorham with her 3 boys, 1 nephew and her 3 fur babies.

KIRA SWIMMLead Teacher in Nursery 1
My name is Kira and I am the lead teacher in Nursery 1. I am a mom of two boys and have been part of the Seedlings family for a year and a half. I am CPR certified and am currently back in school for child psychology. Other than my own two kids and working here at Seedlings, I have also worked with special needs children and been a nanny in my previous jobs. In my free time I like to hike, read books and sleep as much as I possibly can!

Teresa resides in Windham with her husband, Joe and her 2 sons, Sam & Rowan.

ALICIA ROSSSeedlings Room (1-2yrs)
Alicia was born and raised in Portland, Maine and graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a BA in English. During her time at USM she took several education classes and volunteered in a Head Start program and also in a couple local elementary schools.

Alicia has 2 sons, Noah (9) and Ezra (1) and loves being a mother and spending time with her family! Working with children has always been Alicia’s passion and she’s honored to be surrounded by such an amazing group every day!

KAT BINFORDAssistant Director & Lead Teacher in Little Runners (3-4 yrs)
My name is Kat I am an Assistant Director, and lead teacher in Little Runners ( 3-4 year olds) I am currently studying Social Behavioral Science with a minor in Early Childhood Development at the USM, and will be graduating May 2021. I have worked in child care since 2015 and have absolutely loved every part of it! I am CPR and water safety certified as well! I have a very bubbly and expressive personality and love to talk to anyone and everyone, so make sure to say hi! I am so excited to be apart of this amazing opportunity that has really truly turned into a family and I am so grateful for it!
LUCICA SOUTHWORTHNursery Float (6 weeks - 1 yr)
Lucica has been in the childcare field for 5 years. She has worked with children as young as 3 months old all the way up to 8th graders. She loves working with children and watching them grow and learn about the world around them.

Lucica is thrilled to be a part of the Seedlings to Sunflowers community and working with her fellow team members. In her spare time, Lucica likes to go to the beach, hang out with her friends, go biking and hiking and just be outside.

Seedling to Sunflowers’ approach to teaching through nature-based learning is what drew her to make the move from her current center. She loves the idea of a center that is more than just a daycare but a community. She’s a firm believer in “It takes a village” and is honored to be a part of the Seedlings to Sunflowers’ village. It’s exciting to see a new and much needed change of direction in center-based care and Sarah is so honored and excited to be able to be a part of it!

As well as being a teacher, Sarah is a mother of 3. She is excited for her 2 younger kids, Camden and Shea to also get the opportunity to join the Seedlings to Sunflowers’ community. When not at work, Sarah loves to spend as much time as possible with her family. They love to travel, spend time at the beach and parks – pretty much anything outside! Sarah looks forward to getting to know you all and thanks you in advance for the chance to be a part of your little ones journeys through childhood.

EMILY FIELDSNursery Room (6 months- 1 year)
I graduated from the physical education program at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine about a year ago. I hope to one day teach young minds how to be able to keep their bodies moving, have fun while doing it, and learn to enjoy the outdoors. I love seeing young minds be able to explore and learn through play. I love spending time with my family and going on trail walks with my dog. Coming on board as a infant teacher is something new and exciting. I am looking forward to this new chapter.
MADISON (MADI) HOULETTENursery Room (6 weeks-6 months)
Madi was born and raised in South Portland to a family of teachers. She has been in childcare for about a year and a half and has had lots of experience working in public schools. Madi is currently going into her 3rd year of college at USM for elementary education. She hopes to teach first or second grade and maybe one day travel to a developing country and spend some time teaching there!
Radhika Natarajan
Radhika NatarajanNursery (6 months-1 yr)
Radhika currently holds a Bachelors Degree in Science from the University of Madras, India. She is very passionate about teaching, especially to young children and has been doing it successfully for the past two years as a pre-school teacher.

Radhika moved to the United States after she got married to her husband 8 years ago. She is blessed with a beautiful six years old girl…

As a certifying Postpartum Doula and holistic mama, Khaila will also be able to support our families as more than a teacher. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, crafting, camping, and soaking up the sun with her two year old son.

Radhika has always loved traveling, meeting people, engaging in conversations and learning. She loves to draw and paint in her free time. Road trips are her and her family’s favorite thing to do together.

She is really excited and looking forward to being a part of the Seedlings to Sunflowers family. Engaging the children with hands on activities in the classroom is something that she is thrilled about as it helps them connect with real life things.

KAREN BACHELDERSprouts Room (2-3yrs)
Karen is so happy to be apart of such a wonderful community. She absolutely loves teaching and nurturing young children. For the last seven years, Karen has worked at a center as a Director’s Assistant and Teacher, teaching children from six weeks to school aged. She is CPR and First Aide Certified and has taken various trainings through Maine Roads to Quality. Karen is also working towards her CDA (Child Development Associates Degree).
COURTNEY CUNNINGHAMFloat Teacher & Kitchen Aid
Courtney graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 2018 with a B.S. in Health Sciences. In school, she also concentrated in Wellness and minored in Holistic and Integrative Health and holds a passion for preventative health practices. Previous to school, she explored her interests of sustainable farming and cooking for many years, which she knows will always play a large role in her life…

Karen and her husband have three girls ages 13, 10 and 2. She enjoys spending her free time with her family. They love the outdoors going hunting, fishing/ice fishing, snowmobiling, riding ATV’s, swimming and the list goes on. Karen is also very involved with her children’s education and extra-curricular activities volunteering both in the classroom and on the field. She is overjoyed to have her youngest daughter be apart of such a wonderful and supportive community here at Seedlings to Sunflowers and looks forward to what the future holds for her here.

 As her schooling came to a close, Courtney found mental health to be the direction in which she wanted to take her professional career. She became a counselor in a residential treatment home in the Portland area that offered therapeutic support for teens and their families. Here, she began gaining her skills in the mental health field and discovered her desire to work with younger children. Courtney also knew a nature-based and conscious learning model was important to her, which brought her to Seedlings to Sunflowers!

With a passion for education and health/wellness, Caroline is excited to work with Seedlings to Sunflowers’ kids!

Kayla is currently the Director of a local child care center and has been working in the early childhood education field for 10 years. Kayla has her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and is currently going through the process of getting her teaching certificate. Her passion…
Erica is a kindergarten teacher in Scarborough and mother to two young children, Fiona and Devan. She lives in an old farm house in Gorham along with her husband Sean, dog Josie, and two barn kitties. Erica grew up in a small coastal town in Maine and attended The Bay School, a Waldorf-inspired private school.
Jennifer is a registered nurse who graduated from the University of New England in 2009. She has dedicated her nursing career to working with children and adolescents in crisis. Her experience began in residential and correctional settings in Phoenix, Arizona. She is currently the…

…for quality education started during her college work study but really grew after she graduated and worked for a nonprofit with children with developmental delays. During her time there she had an incredible mentor who taught her the amazing ways that a classroom can include all of the tools that young children need to flourish and grow.

Before her current position she helped open a preschool that focused on learning with the mind and body. She played an active role in creating the curriculum, classroom scheduling and set up, daily structure, etc. She worked with that center for 6 years as both an educator and the Assistant Director. This position allowed her to gain knowledge as both an educator as well as an administrator in the field. As a resident of Gorham and an early childhood educator she is very excited to lend her knowledge to Seedlings to Sunflowers and help create an amazing learning based center for Gorham.

This is where her inspiration and passion for teaching started. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Wheaton College and Master’s from Lesley University. Erica’s education and teaching experience has given her a solid foundation to build her career upon. She is honored and humbled to be working with such an incredible group of women that are so devoted to children and families.

…nurse manager for child and adolescent services at Spring Harbor Hospital. Jennifer appreciates the importance of experiential learning, family and the impact positive role models can have on a child’s development. Jennifer resides in her hometown of Gorham with her husband and two young daughters and is hopeful to send her youngest daughter to Seedlings to Sunflowers!

Frayla Tarpinian is the Head of the Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse Unit for the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office. She is an aggressive advocate on behalf of victims of violence and passionate about criminal justice reform. After earning a B.A. from…

…Brandeis University and her law degree from Boston University School of Law, she began her legal career clerking for the Maine Superior Court and went on to represent indigent clients, prior to becoming a prosecutor in 2013. Having participated in the system from all sides, Frayla has a unique perspective. She would like to see the criminal justice system become more equitable, reserving incarceration for perpetrators of violent criminal conduct and an increase in diversion and treatment for lower level offenders.