These last four weeks have not been easy for Teresa Ann Hall, owner of Land of the Little People Daycare on State Road 12. She has alternately cried, laughed, worried and hugged parents, kids and coworkers.
Hall had to make a tough business decision recently. Like other businesses, the economy and accompanying layoffs forced her to close her doors. In a letter to parents, she said that enrollment has been down over a year and she feels the demand for childcare has decreased due to the economy, loss of jobs and parents finding other means of taking care of their children such as allowing them to stay at home or with relatives.
“There were several things. But the loss of jobs by some of our parents forced them to cut back and since they weren't working they could watch their own children. The public schools started voluntary pre-k, which is free, and it also cut into the number of kids we served," Hall said.
The number of students fell from 80 per day this time last year to 40 last week. Of the 40 students, only 26 were full-time while the others were after school. On May 18 she distributed a letter to parents informing them that the last day would be May 28.
News of the closing was not good for Kathryn Jackson. Her grandson, Cody, has attended the center for 7 of his 8 years.
"I can't say enough about them. They are like family and they have provided the one-to-one love and guidance each child needs. I work in Tallahassee and have had several opportunities to move my grandson to another location closer and more convenient to my job through the years. But it never crossed my mind because Land of the Little People is not just filled with a loving environment for little people like my grandson, but a staff that each have great, big, loving hearts," Jackson said.
Hall opened the daycare April 22, 1991, and said that through the years there have been a lot of changes but she would not have done anything differently.
"This has been my passion and always has been since day one. I feel that a job should be given 110 percent and we cannot financially afford to continue. There is no other alternative. It has been a good journey," Hall said, fighting back tears.
The center took care of children from 4 weeks to 12 years of age and several were second-generation students. Hall and center director Montoyia Tillman said closing has been more difficult than either imagined.
"I gave her a pep talk about being strong during the parent meeting and I was the one who couldn't hold back the tears," Tillman said.
Both will miss the children and interacting with the staff. The staff has dwindled from 12 to 6 but there were no layoffs. Hall said that as people left the center for other opportunities, they weren't replaced.
While she also has to move on, the immediate task at hand is to liquidate the property and that will also be a challenge. The finality will really set in for Hall when she sells the little tables and chairs and other equipment.
"The memories will always be with me, lingering in my heart," she said.