“We’ve come a long way,” founder Karina Wyllie said. “Five years ago was a long time. We’ve learned a lot through the years, met tons of families, and have been able to educate tons of children through the five years. The biggest impact for me as an owner and for the business is that I think we’ve really made a large impact in many families' lives through their children.”
Koala Park got its start after Wyllie relocated to Westchester from Long Island in 2010. After “struggling to find local daycare that felt like an extension of our home for my child and our family," she decided to open up a full-time center out of her home. Since opening her first location, Wyllie has expanded to a second location on Pleasant Place in Tuckahoe.
The daycare centers now takes care of two dozen children on a daily basis with a staff of more than 10 women who all reside in the area.
“We’re providing a service in the community that it really needs, childcare is a big challenge, and finding childcare in the area that we live in (that) meets all the requirements is difficult,” Wyllie said. “In five years, we feel like we’ve really been able to impact and help these families out and have made a huge difference in some children’s lives.”
Wyllie - who has been appointed as the President-elect of the Eastchester-Tuckahoe Chamber of Commerce - said it was important to her that the children in her care have learning experiences in the moment. Since its inception, Koala Park has begun including enrichment classes that include music, yoga and gym.
“We are and remain to be a child-led program. Our staff understands child development and understand that they are working for the child. The child leads the day, ” she added. “Children are inquisitive and everything is a learning opportunity. We train our staff to have them understand that at any moment in time, you need to grab an opportunity and go with it. We’re there to teach the children and make sure they are constantly learning.
“For us, the children come first and foremost, that’s all we think about. If we can get them to feel safe, secure, engaged, stimulated and learning at their own pace, when no one is pressuring them, that’s a win for us.”
Going from a mother to business owner has been a consistent challenge, Wyllie noted, saying that “it’s something I’m doing for the first time.”
“It’s not about owning a business, it’s about being a role model for the women I hire to work at the daycare and just learning to be a good manager. I just want to make sure they’re all equipped with the tools they need to be successful, because working with children is so important, and it’s important to have the training you need and the right attitude to ensure you’re educating the children.
“It goes beyond a CRP certificate or putting in a certain amount of hours of training. Our days are full of learning experiences.”
Koala Park will celebrate it’s fifth birthday on Saturday, with a family picnic involving friends, families, children in their care, teachers and alumni, which will be hosted at the park located around the corner on Garrett Avenue, steps from the Aurmourvilla Avenue home that started it all.
“Always follow your heart, dream big and believe in yourself, because anything is possible when you set your mind to something, no matter what the obstacles are,” the now seasoned business owner said. “There will be challenges, but you can be prepared for those, just don’t give up. If you’re offering a service and helping a family, you’re doing right.
“Just don’t give up on your dream, ever. You only get one life to live, and you should live it with a passion, do good and be grateful. You have to learn to recognize the good things in your life and be grateful.”
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