Saying ‘so long’ to Little Pals

For sale: day care center. Fully equipped with toys, educational materials and lots of memories.

After 45 years, Juanita Hayes-Hill has decided to sell Little Pals Day Care Center. Hayes-Hill, 75, opened the center with Nellie Beasley, now deceased, in 1968 with the idea of providing child care that also taught the basics for children on their way to kindergarten.

“We started on a song and a prayer,” and a little help from an SBA loan, Hayes-Hill said.

Since then, thousands of children – and later the children of those children – have attended Little Pals.

What started as a two-bedroom house converted into a day care center grew into the current building licensed for up to 80 children at 2739 N. Hillside.

Hayes-Hill hopes to sell Little Pals as is and has had some people express interest in it. But she’s not selling it as an easy venture.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “Day care is not a glamorous profession. ... The paperwork is tremendous. Meeting the licensing requirements, the yearly in-service requirements.

“There is a business aspect to it. A lot of people will come up to me and say they want to open up a day care center because they love children. That’s good, but you also have to have a business sense. And you have to be qualified.”

Over the years, the center has competed with larger, national day care chains.

“I think what has kept us in business all these years is the fact that we care,” she said. “That’s our model. ... Our kids know that every adult here is here to meet their needs. Our kids are right at home and comfortable and that’s what we

Hayes-Hill said she’ll miss the interaction with the children. She said she has enjoyed holding “graduations” each year for the children who are moving on to kindergarten, complete with their caps and gowns. Other yearly traditions included pony rides and hatching chicks and baby ducks.

In her retirement, she plans to volunteer more with Harry Hynes Hospice, rock babies at other day care centers and work on a book of all the cute things kids have said over the years. She’s actively involved in the Early Childhood Directors Organization of Wichita, National Association for the Education of Young Children and the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church of Wichita.

Both of Alishea English’s children – daughter London, 5, and son Brooklyn, 10 – have attended Little Pals.

“It was just a very loving and nurturing environment,” English said. “It was always easy to leave them here because they were taken care of and they were being educated. They do a lot of fundamental enrichment work ... and get the education they need to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.”