Kids ‘R’ Kids of Clayton has provided five star child care since 2006, and owner Tara Abernathy has been relentless about building a reputation of trust from the parents and staff. A true entrepreneur, Tara owned six businesses when COVID-19 hit and each one of those companies was impacted deeply and immediately.
Through the network of other Kids ‘R’ Kids owners across the country, Tara was able to gather first-hand information about how the virus was affecting other states, particularly childcare facilities and schools. In the beginning, COVID in North Carolina was progressing about two weeks behind other states. “I embedded myself in news and research and I was able to prepare my business a little bit ahead of the curve, she said.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Tara made it her mission to get as much information as possible to share with her staff and parents. With research in hand, she called an emergency staff meeting on Friday, March 13, 2020, to let them know that “something was coming and it was going to be grave.” Tara said her goal the entire time was to keep the staff intact no matter the cost. She said, “No amount of money was worth letting that all go.”
All of the time spent researching COVID-19, reading articles and gathering information paid off. Tara did not have to let a single employee go. The staff was given the option to stay on or take a personal leave of absence. With parents losing jobs left and right, many of their families either no longer needed childcare or could no longer afford it. Understandably, they lost the majority of their students. However, it worked out perfectly for them because half of the staff decided to take a leave of absence.
From the beginning, she started providing mental health check-ins for her staff. Once a month on Fridays, Tara closed Kids ‘R’ Kids early to serve the staff dinner that she had prepared. The staff that weren't working that day or were on a leave of absence would join in virtually. They were able to ask questions and let her know what they needed in terms of supplies such as bleach, toilet paper and tissues. Those things were hard to find, not to mention expensive, so Tara would order in bulk as another way to assist her staff.
Another payoff for all of that research was that throughout the pandemic, Kids ‘R’ Kids never had to close its doors. Not even for one day. After that emergency meeting on Friday the 13th, Tara and her staff, along with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Governor Cooper’s guidelines, developed and implemented a COVID-19 strategy the following Monday. Needless to say there were a lot of changes.
For one, parents were no longer allowed into the building for drop off or pick up, nor could they come and have lunch with their children. A great benefit of Kids ‘R’ Kids is they already had webcams in each classroom that allowed parents to see the precautions taking place in real time. Tara said, “Parents were very supportive of everything we put in place, especially how we were taking care of the staff.”
Realizing that this was going to be a major event that lasted more than a couple of months, Tara added Eileen Proctor to the team in January 2021. Eileen was hired as Chief Operating Officer of Abernathy Marketing to help navigate through the remainder of the pandemic. This powerhouse team quickly realized they had to shift their messaging techniques. They leveraged the talent they already had and stepped up social media, using it like never before. Every Friday a news update was sent out to each and every customer of all six businesses. “It was a ton of communication,” Tara said.
With no one allowed in the building besides the staff and the children, potential families couldn't come in person for tours of the school either, so they hosted virtual tours, did email blasts and put up flyers to continuously keep all of the parents, even potential customers, up to speed during the daily changing world of COVID-19.
One year later, Kids ‘R’ Kids is seeing an increase, albeit slow, in childcare needs. Tara proudly told me that not only did they never have to close their doors, but they have graduated two kindergarten classes and were able to offer summer camp in 2020. Last summer they had about 70 campers. Once again following DHHS and Governor Cooper’s strict guidelines, they had outside activities of small separated groups as well as lots of hand washing and mask wearing by all involved. Since they couldn’t physically go on field trips, campers took part in interactive, virtual field trips.
Throughout the pandemic, Tara and her staff have not strayed from the initial protocols including temperature checks of students and staff at the door every morning when they arrive. It still consists of excessive monitoring and excessive hygiene to keep the staff and the children safe. “It was a major commitment to keep the doors open,” said Eileen,” and one that other schools did have the ability to accommodate.”
Of course, none of this would have been possible if not for the support of the Clayton Chamber of Commerce spreading the word about what supplies were needed, and local businesses, friends and neighbors hearing that call and filling those needs. Tara also took advantage of every available financial resource including DHHS grants and Paycheck Protection Program loans. “Tara is an employee driven owner,” said Eileen. In fact, through some of the grants the staff of Kids ‘R’ Kids were even eligible for bonuses.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded confidence in Kids ‘R’ Kids and it’s procedures. Eileen said, “We will continue to be the child center of choice because of how we conducted ourselves.” Tara’s unrelenting dedication to her team and the Kids ‘R’ Kids families has undoubtedly made her a successful entrepreneur and essential part of the community.