Janine Ketchel, previous owner of KinderGardens Child Development Center in Hugo, has spent the last 15-plus years helping families. Even though she recently sold the business, she plans to continue doing just that.
Ketchel, a Forest Lake resident, has been in the child care industry for 30 years. She opened the 7,500-square-foot facility in 2005, and in 2009 KinderGardens expanded its footprint to 10,000 square feet.
Hugo has continued to grow, but Ketchel says it has never lost its “small-town feel.”
“I enjoyed being able to provide a quality learning experience for the children. That was something that was near and dear to me,” she explained. “I really wanted (parents) to feel confident while they were at work that their children were being cared for in a nurturing and safe way.”
Throughout the years, Ketchel enjoyed establishing relationships with the families and community. Staff from the business participated in the Kidz ‘N Biz Fest, Tour de Hugo, National Night Out events and more.
Hugo resident Katie Clark, who lives within walking distance of the center, has had a child enrolled in KinderGardens since 2015. Her son, who will enter first grade this fall, attended for five years, and her daughter, Anna, is currently enrolled in the preschool program.
A friend of Clark’s recommended she check out the center. She toured a few places when she was pregnant with Matthew, and knew KinderGardens was the perfect place. “It was a similar experience to when I was touring colleges when I was in high school. People always said, ‘How did you pick your college?’ It’s just this feeling you get when you walk in there,” she said. “It was just this mom instinct.”
Clark said she liked the fact that the center was family owned, but still had the processes, procedures and curriculum in place that you would find at a center versus a home day care.
“The teachers and staff truly have felt like part of my extended family. They are amazing, thoughtful, considerate, loving, joyful, compassionate,” she said.
Clark recalled Matthew’s first day of kindergarten. After dropping him off, she stopped by KinderGardens, threw her hands up in the air and said, “WE DID IT!!!!”
She explained that Ketchel has been a “pseudo grandma-like figure” for her children. “Regardless of what was happening in her personal life or her own day, she always greeted the kids with smiles and affection. They think that they are the center of her world no matter what is happening. She truly has a unique ability to make kids and parents feel special.”
KinderGardens becomes New Horizon Academy
KinderGardens has been sold to New Horizon Academy. It was a tough decision for Ketchel, but the timing felt right and Ketchel felt like she needed to sell the business in order to retain the staff necessary to provide quality child care.
“As a small business, it was difficult to get the funding to do the training I would like to do to continue to provide the quality that I was looking for,” she explained. “I had a lot of staff members who were needing benefits such as health care, dental, 401K… It was hard to obtain staffing because we didn’t have those benefits.”
Ketchel explained she wanted to ensure the community of Hugo could continue to attract quality teachers for the program, so she began searching for someone who had the ability to provide the necessary training, benefits and curriculum.
“I know that I’m leaving it in good hands,” she said. “I believe strongly that (New Horizon) will thoughtfully continue our mission and provide what parents have come to expect for their children.”
New Horizon Academy is family owned and operated and has served young children for over 50 years. New Horizon hired every one of the staff that were formerly employed at KinderGardens.
“We are very thankful for community to take KinderGardens in and support our business these last 15-plus years,” Ketchel said. “They put a lot of trust in us, and we didn’t take that for granted.”
What’s next for Ketchel?
Ketchel plans to take a little break this summer but then begin researching for a new business this fall.
Ketchel’s youngest daughter, 26, has Asperger syndrome. “It has taken a long time to find the different types of services that are available to her to continue to live independently,” she explained. “Once students leave high school, there is really not a transition for these young adults into independent living, school and different services.
“That’s my new path.”
She hopes to launch a business that will help connect parents of adult children with special needs to the right resources.
After Ketchel announced she was selling KinderGardens, she said her grandson asked her,