Welcome to Women’s History Month! Since our founding by Pauline Miller in 1981, Kiddie Academy® Educational Child Care has a proud history in which women have played major roles. Today, more than half of our 300-plus franchises are owned in whole or in part by women. Throughout March, we will introduce you to some of these businesswomen who have not only helped build our brand to what it is today but have also left an indelible mark on the communities they serve.
Wendy Burkley Gray holds the distinction of being the first Kiddie Academy Franchisee. In 1992, she signed an agreement for a location in Elkton, Maryland and opened for business in March 1993. Kiddie Academy of Elkton will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in business this year on March 15. Since opening, Wendy’s Academy has educated and cared for thousands of children in her community.
“I am very proud of knowing I was the first Kiddie Academy Franchisee and I am still in business 30 years this month,” Wendy said. “I started with seven children in March 1993. One child was mine, two were my director’s children, two were my employee’s and two were a friend’s. Those kids are all 33 years or older now!”
Wendy notes there weren’t women business owners to look to as role models in the early ‘90s. “Pauline Miller had a vision to serve children and families and improve early childhood education. Meeting her for the first time and seeing her determination and spunk motivated me to see what I could accomplish. She and her family gave me the chance to start my 30-year career and I will be grateful to them always.”
“When we started there were no computers to generate all the information we use today. Parents signed their child in by paper and pencil. Tuition was done by check or cash. Looking back, Kiddie Academy has come so far. The corporate office employed maybe 10 people at the most when I started my journey with them. Some are still there. Walking into the corporate office today makes me so proud to see the organization and all the different departments and people working together to make our brand what is it today.”
It’s a testament to the quality of her service that some area families have sent multiple generations of children to Wendy’s Academy. “I have former Kiddie Academy of Elkton students bring their children for care. I have grandparents that brought their children and now bring their grandchildren.” That includes her former high school principal. “Henry Shaffer was my principal when I was a student at Elkton High School and he hired me there as teacher. That he thought enough of me to bring his grandchild to my Academy for care is something I am very proud of.”
Some highlights of Wendy Burkley Gray’s 30 years as a Kiddie Academy Franchisee:
-Elkton Small Business of the Year Award
-Kiddie Academy Founder’s Award recipient
-Kiddie Academy Director of the Year
-Member of Kiddie Academy Franchise Advisory Committee
-Elkton Alliance Board of Directors
-Winner of Cecil Whig newspaper’s Best Child Care in Cecil County Cecil Favorites Award for the past 10 years
In addition to providing high-quality educational care for children, Wendy’s Academy has also provided jobs for those in and around Elkton. That includes a handful of employees who have been with her for all or most of her years in operation. “I’ve only had three directors in 30 years. There are 15 employees who worked for me for 10 years or more. Joann Ewald, my bookkeeper, billpayer, secretary, right-hand friend who has been here the whole time. I would not be able to keep everything straight without her and I owe my success to her as well. The Piner family worked with me side by side from the very first days we opened, and I still have their family members working with me. Samantha Keithley was a student here and now is the teacher in the toddler room.”
Wendy’s family has long ties to the community. “My father’s family was from here and I grew up in Elkton. This Academy has deep roots here. I’m honored to continue to serve our community, preparing children for the educational, emotional and social skills they need to be successful. Throughout my career in education and in three decades with Kiddie Academy, I feel I’ve made an impact in our little town of Elkton and served it well. I thank everyone that gave me a chance to care for their children and who put their trust in me over the past 30 years.”
Congratulations to Wendy and her staff for 30 years of service to the families of Elkton, Maryland and to the Kiddie Academy brand!
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