ELKTON — For Wendy Burkley-Barry, being named the winner of Elkton’s 2018 Small Business of the Year award is an honor that now runs in the family.
Burkley-Barry, who owns Kiddie Academy of Elkton, was surprised and somewhat emotional to learn that she now shares the title with her late father William Burkley, 31 years later. Burkley, a business maverick and prolific state politician, who died in 2001, won the Elkton Chamber & Alliance award for his work with the John K. Burkley Real Estate company.
“It’s come full circle now that Dad’s passed away,” she told the Whig. “I was raised in Elkton and I personally know everyone. That’s what makes this so gratifying and humbling.”
Mary Jo Jablonski, executive director of the Elkton Chamber & Alliance, said that Burkley-Barry was nominated by the members of the town chamber. Criteria for a nomination includes being in business for at least five years, being a member of the Chamber and Alliance and having done something for the community.
“Wendy and her father, who I knew, have always given something back to Elkton,” Jablonski said. “She sponsors a lot of events for the community, the last being the town’s Halloween Parade. She’s a wonderful choice.”
Burkley-Barry opened Kiddie Academy, an educational child care franchise, out of the Upper Chesapeake Corporate Center at 100 Kiddie Lane, in 1993. At the time, she had been teaching special education at Elkton High School with a 1-year-old daughter at home.
“I was commuting from Bel Air at the time, and I’d come home to her, and started thinking that there has to be a structured program for her. But there wasn’t a lot of choices in the area,” she said.
Around the same time, her father was developing the former Baker farm into the Upper Chesapeake Corporate Center and the Miller family, who founded the original Kiddie Academy in Harford County, announced they were offering a franchise opportunity.
Burkley-Barry became the owner of the first Kiddie Academy franchise, which has now expanded to more than 200 locations across America. Today, Burkley-Barry’s facility, which caters to children between 6 weeks and 12 years old, has 103 children enrolled.
“It was a little scary starting out because my father was in business, I wasn’t,” Burkley-Barry recalled. “But I knew education, and it seemed like a great opportunity. The Millers have been so helpful in walking me through the basics of business. It really was a leap of faith.”
In the past two decades, Burkley-Barry has seen the youth of Cecil County grow up and become successful in their own rights. Although Kiddie Academy becomes a place where many children pass through in their childhoods, Burkley-Barry said it’s rewarding to see proof that it has touched their lives.
“I’ve been invited to job fairs at Cecil College, and some young women came up and asked if I remembered them. It turns out they attended Kiddie Academy and they now are interested in a career in child care themselves,” she said. “I’ve hired many people that came here as students and now they’re teachers or aides.”
Friendships that are made at Kiddie Academy of Elkton have also endured long after children have left, Burkley-Barry said. One story she shared was about two boys who attended child care at age 3 and were still friends when they were in college.
“It’s just amazing to hear things like this,” she said. “I have a great staff, and we’re grateful to be a part of such a amazing community.”
Burkley-Barry received the honor at the Elkton Chamber & Alliance’s Small Business of the Year banquet Thursday night at the Bristol Barn in Sinking Spring.