For the Love of Children
It's 3 p.m. on Friday. "Miss Lesly, Miss Lesly." Dozens of waving, smiling and babbling children grab for her hand, wrap their arms around her leg, show off their latest artwork and offer to share their snack. Each one is greeted by name as Lesly Crick, owner of Toddler University, makes her way through a maze of child-size tables, toys and art supplies. She knows who is celebrating a birthday, who had a cold last week, who has a new haircut, whose mommy is going through a divorce, and who might just need that extra bit of TLC (a.k.a crying). With the exception of a few babies getting a late afternoon lung workout, everybody's happy.
"I've always loved kids and they've always been attracted to me," said Lesly. "It's a quality or trait that either you have or you don't have. I have to find other people who also have that trait. I have 15 other teachers. They're here because they want to make a difference in the world, just like I do. It's a special gift, I think."
Lesly didn't set out to own a childcare center. "At first, I wanted to be a genetic engineer," she said. But after stumbling over first year chemistry, she studied psychology instead. Degree in hand, with no clue what she wanted to do, she took a temporary job in the personnel department of Jones Intercable in Colorado. When a marketing position became available, she interviewed for the job. "It was the worst interview of my life," she said. "I left in tears, and I've not been to another interview since."
What does any young college grad do when the job prospects look bleak? Head for the beach! "I was running away," said Lesly, who came to Hilton Head Island with a group of girlfriends, 19 years ago, in search of suntans and summer jobs. As the season wound down, her friends all left, but Lesly stayed. Working in the golf industry for the first year and a half, she supplemented her income with food and beverage jobs; but after marriage and the birth of her two children, she discovered her true calling: childcare.
"I couldn't find anything that I liked," she said. "My mom owned daycare centers my entire life, so I knew what it could be. I knew I could do it better."
For four years, she watched other people's children in her home before taking the business to a new level in 2001. Sinking every penny of her savings into an existing daycare center, she renamed it, and began building her clientele.
More than a babysitting service, Lesly's intent was to provide a curriculum-based learning facility. "We're here to shape the future. I hope we're building well-rounded children that are going to be self-sufficient and know how to control themselves. I really hope that we are instilling decent moral values and manners," she said.
According to Lesly, the greatest rewards don't come in the form of a paycheck. The real joy of the job is in the smiles, hugs and unconditional love. "Children are very important to me. It's why I do what I do," she said. "It's just in my blood. It's part of who I am."
Hometown: Colorado Family: husband, Jim, children, Emily, age 13 and James, age 11 In her spare time, find her: playing golf, being a soccer mom, and enjoying a variety of family activities. Describes herself as: energetic, loving and compassionate Life motto: Be happy! Person who has most inspired her: Dennis Gerwing. "He was my best friend in the whole world, my mentor, my business advisor-he was like my dad, my brother. He walked me down the aisle and gave me away at my wedding. He was one of the most wonderful, fun, big-hearted, great people. He would go out of his way to help people. That's probably what got him into trouble." (Amidst mysterious circumstances and a flurry of controversy yet to be resolved, Dennis died March 11, 2008.)