By Logan C. Ritchie | lritchie@atljewishtimes.com

Marni Steinhardt, a 34-year-old mom of two, purchased Purple Hippo two years ago. Now with the new year, thanks to a boom in business, the Dunwoody art studio is making a new home at the Marcus Jewish Community Center.

Purple Hippo began as an art studio with limited options for children. Steinhardt increased community visibility by adding classes, workshops, school programming and parties. Listening to her clients and responding to community requests, Steinhardt expanded her business right out of a Dunwoody shopping center.

After an extensive search, Steinhardt and Rabbi Brian Glusman approached the Marcus JCC about renting a space in the new Kuniansky Family Center. Steinhardt’s classes there will begin Jan. 4.

Families don’t have to be JCC members to take Purple Hippo classes in the studio’s new home.

Steinhardt said she is not concerned about losing longtime customers, including a local church preschool. “I’ve told everyone you don’t have to be Jewish to attend. Everyone is welcome. Our non-Jewish and Indian population has followed us.”

Originally from New York by way of Florida, Steinhardt holds degrees in children’s theater and child psychology and a master’s degree in elementary and special education. Her background includes teaching at the Epstein School and for the state of Georgia in special education.

As the online teacher of 24 autistic and emotionally and behaviorally challenged children, Steinhardt spends her time working with the parents of her students: filing paperwork, helping with their educational journey, assessing psych evaluations, and generally providing family support.

She calls herself an educator and “believer in feeding good thoughts. I believe we can make a better world through children if we give them a chance.”

Local homeschooling groups seek out Purple Hippo for a creative outlet, socialization and freedom of creativity.

“When students walk in, they tell me what they want. If a kid comes in and says he wants to build a canoe, I look at my staff and say, ‘You’re building a canoe.’ I want everyone to come and feel comfortable,” she said.

An East Cobb resident, Steinhardt is active in the Jewish community at Congregation Etz Chaim. But her Jewish reach extends all over metro Atlanta. From volunteering with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta to running arts and crafts events at synagogues and providing children’s activities at events such as October’s Kosher BBQ Competition, Steinhardt is community-driven.

Now in addition to delivering Jewish arts content to religious schools, Steinhardt is partnering with SAGE Speech & Learning at the Marcus JCC to implement speech therapy play groups for ages 10 to 36 months, starting Jan. 29.

Jared Powers, the JCC’s chief programming officer, said he is excited to welcome Steinhardt and Purple Hippo to campus.

Steinhardt plans to add an afterschool program, tie-dye bar, hand sculpting class and morning play groups for young children. She also hopes to be involved in Marcus JCC events, such as the Book Festival and holiday celebrations.