Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Heim.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Jennifer. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I worked as a Chicago nanny while attending college. (At that time I was planning to become a pediatrician.) When the family I worked for decided to move to California, I decided I should continue to care for children; but rather than choose one family to work for, since I got SO attached, I asked three who had offered me nanny positions if they’d bring their child to me each day instead so I could offer them a less expensive option (and thus make more money myself) by caring for three children at once. I researched and found that you could care for up to three children in your Chicago home without a license. I changed my major and started taking courses in early childhood development.
We moved from our studio apartment to a large three bedroom in Dearborn Park, which we turned into a little school. It wasn’t long before I met lots of families who “wanted a spot” if one of my charges ever left. I decided not to wait for anyone to leave and instead moved into a bigger apartment and we became the first ever licensed day care home in the loop. This was back in 1992…before the South Loop exploded. Being licensed meant I could enroll up to 8 kids + 4 after-schoolers.
Thus our business took root! We named it Detour 2 Discovery Day School because we wanted to put an emphasis on “school” so as not to be confused as a babysitting service. We felt it was a “detour” from conventional day care because we made every effort to be innovative and child-centered. We were the real deal; fabulous environment (we called the environment our third teacher) lesson plans, a great meal plan and all the love & nurturing a parent could ever want for their little one. We filled to licensed capacity immediately. Our waiting list grew. And it grew…and it grew. Our little school grew, too.
We offered discounted tuition to those who might consider prepaying 3 months, six months or a year in advance. Our current roster of 8 families took full advantage of the prepay discount and so did people who had just met us….we built quite a business incubator nest egg before we even opened the new site in June 1995. On opening day, we were at full capacity; 72 students with 16 teachers.
Over the first decade in business we stayed fully enrolled and opened a duplicate sized site in Little Italy. What made us unique, then and still now, is that we have small classes, low ratios and a really dedicated staff. We think caring for the staff holds equal importance as caring for children and their families. Happy teachers means happy kids & parents. We aren’t your typical open all the time, run of the mill, day care. We close for national holidays and staff professional development; after all, our teachers are professionals and they must be treated as such. They work long hours and while extremely rewarding, it is stressful and a lot of responsibility; so taking them on an all-expenses paid retreat to a national conference in California or Dallas or Atlanta is just par for the course. Bringing in amazing support specialists, empowering speakers and engaging mentors for them to learn from is nothing short of normal for us.
Fast forward to the present day and you’ll find us still committed to the founding philosophy ten blocks south of where we started, in a 12,000 sq. foot single story converted Nash Auto building. We didn’t like running two sites (because who could be in two places at once, right?) and so in 2001, we renovated a raw space that could accommodate all “our children” under one roof. 2001 South Wabash Avenue.
One of the highlights of having this type of business is that we haven’t just been running a business…we’ve been helping to raise hundreds of Chicago children. We’ve been nurturing their self-esteem in the crucial early years and keeping their best interests close to our hearts throughout it all. It’s not uncommon to get emails, Facebook messages or even the occasional surprise in-person visits from our old students…many of whom are quite grown up. It’s been a whirlwind of word-of-mouth. It’s pretty safe to say that everyone at our school came to know us from somebody else, a sibling, cousin, friend, co-worker, neighbor, etc…And in this modern age of social media, Mommy blogs and Facebook groups play their part, too.
Has it been a smooth road?
It’s always felt smooth… but of course, it’s been a lot of hard work & dedication.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Detour 2 Discovery Day School story. Tell us more about the business.
If I had to be honest one challenge would be watching so many day care centers pop up over the years; all around us and all over the city… we went from being one of the only to one of a hundred… but in the end we still feel like we’ve remained one of a kind! We are not cookie-cutter and that has meant a consistent waiting list.
The fact that children love our school… and the fact that families love & respect us is all the success we could ask for.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I see our field going back to basics… over the recent years, Kindergarten has become the new first grade…. and this over-reaching for over-achieving goes against everything we know about what is good for little people. I see a trend back to keeping children – children, as long as possible. Allowing them to remain in comfortable, early learning environments for as long as possible… No need to push them and rush them into grade school before they are grade-schoolers!
- 725 – 2200 price range
- Address: 2001 S Wabash Avenue
- Website: detour2discovery.com
- Phone: 3129492273
- Email: email@example.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Detour2/
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/detour-2-discovery-day-school-chicago
Eva Ho Photography