There comes a time when you consider the most important people in your life. It is currently during the first lockdown of the COVID-19 Virus that I write this tribute to Nancy Aitken. Take my advice and think of who you owe a debt of gratitude to.
I want to make sure that I devote a blog to my Mentor: Nancy Aitken.
Nancy Aitken has been the owner of Busy Bee Nursery School in Sacramento, CA since 1968. Nancy drew me into her inner circle by seeing my budding potential. While I was speaking at an event to launch an entrepreneurial idea for a substitute service for preschool teachers, Nancy saw me as a good fit as a Director in her preschool. Although I was flattered, I was not qualified as a Director only a teacher.
As my Mentor, she gave me a ‘creative title’ and allowed me to work in that position while I finished my qualifying units and learned to become a Director, under her wise and supportive wing. She even let me continue to operate my substitute service from the desk in her office. No opportunity lost!
Nancy had already carved out a clear niche for her preschool style and beliefs and actively worked on relative legislation when I started working for her in 1982. For three years I worked hard for Nancy and for Busy Bee. She taught me how to treat children, how to allow them to learn on their own, how to relax and let them get messy. She taught me how to appreciate staff members and respect parents. I taught her how to organize a program, to manage full-time equivalencies and I brought strength to staffing expectations which balanced her empathy and commitment.
I was, however, still a free thinker – an entrepreneur- and hungered to develop my own program and be the leader of my own preschool. Nancy was with me! As I devised my own discipline philosophy (EnlightenedDiscipline.com) Nancy was there. She supported me in each attempt to open my own schools, one after the other. I opened three preschools under one company name – after great success, I made a few bad moves, then faced financial collapse. My dreams were lost. Those schools were ultimately closed or sold. But life moves on.
After a year of working outside of my beloved Early Education field. I was truly miserable. Nancy suggested me to a family member who owned a failing preschool location in a nearby community that I could start from scratch, once again. She said, “If anyone can do it, Julie Jenkins can!” That was 24 years ago. I once again opened MY program in a completely empty building, under a new business name. It was a dicey location, but Caring Connection Children’s Center opened in West Sacramento in 1996. With Nancy’s undying support I have been operating that location for nearly a quarter-century. Since then, three other Caring Connection locations have opened. Nancy has always been by my side for a visit, a quick lunch, a phone call or to prospect a possible new location. We have shared the aggravations in business, coffee at conferences, swapped toys and books; and discussed fears and worries of the childcare field. Even now, amid COVID-19, she and I are wondering together by phone how this will shake out for ECE Professionals and the families we serve.
We joined our Caring Connection staff with Nancy’s Busy Bee staff and surprised Nancy by celebrating her career and devotion to the ECE field at a combined Staff Training day in 2018. This was a tribute to her. Although our event was not public, it was important to me and incredibly touching to her. Nancy has since had to semi-retire and although she is nearby, does not have daily contact at her beloved Busy Bee, due to health issues.
Nancy gave me my first full-time manager’s salary at $900.00 per month – I was astounded! Nancy supported me when I didn’t have a car by letting me drive hers. She invited me to dinner when my husband was working nights, introduced me to Brie cheese, French roast coffee and to massages. Nancy paid for groceries for my first Caring Connection before revenue was consistent. Nancy gave me monetary and emotional support, in small and immeasurable ways that I endeavor to pass on to others. Most of all, she never relinquished her relationship with me. Through two divorces, bankruptcy, real estate conflicts, school closures, and tax debts…Nancy never gave up on me. Nor I her.
They say we never may know how you have affected someone in this life. I know and I will tell her: Nancy Aitken you have absolutely changed the course of my life. I am forever grateful. Be well, my friend. You are a hero to me!