After 20 years, and despite the economy, Jil Helland and Ursula Shoudy are still up to their kneecaps in higgledy-piggledy little customers.
They own Toddle Inn, an early-learning and daycare facility in Clinton for children ages 4 weeks to 5 years old. It’s the only state-licensed infant daycare on South Whidbey.
“I wanted to be a court reporter, but you can’t be around kids when you’re a court reporter,” said Helland, who now has
28 years of experience in childcare.
Helland opened Toddle Inn 20 years ago in the converted three-car garage of her Clinton home. Shoudy soon came aboard.
“I was starting up the business and was looking for a partner,” Helland said. “I was fortunate to meet Ursula when she was super pregnant.”
“She started watching my son, Jason, and we just went from there,” Shoudy said.
They began with infants and toddlers, then expanded through pre-kindergarten age at the urging of parents who didn’t want to move their children to another facility, Shoudy said.
There’s no extra charge for the preschool program, she said. The center works with the state Department of Social and Health Services, and there’s a discount for additional children in a family, she added.
Toddle Inn is licensed to care for as many as 18 children in a mixed-age setting, Shoudy said.
“We have no intention of getting any larger, because we want to keep it family-friendly,” she said.
Toddle Inn focuses on teaching learning and social skills. Its large outdoor, sunny playground features colorful and popular climbing installations.
Teacher Linda Walters, who has 35 years in the field, has been at Toddle Inn for 19 years. Teacher Cindy Barnett has been there four years.
Helland, 50, and her husband Patrick have four daughters ages 29, 24, 16 and 14.
Shoudy has lived on Whidbey since she was 5 and attended South Whidbey schools. She and her husband Scott, a local business owner, have two sons, ages 20 and 15.
Helland and Shoudy pride themselves on keeping in touch through the years with the children who pass through Toddle Inn.
“They all become our extended family,” Shoudy said. “It’s a family situation that continues. We get invited to birthdays. But it IS odd, when you take care of them as babies, then go to their graduations.”
Annie Wescott, 19, of Langley, was a preschooler at Toddle Inn. She returned at age 17 to work at the center.
“It says a lot about a daycare when they helped to raise you until you’re 5, then care enough to stay with you,” Wescott said. “Ursula actually gave me my first job. It’s amazing.”
Wescott will be a sophomore at Southern Oregon University in Ashland in the fall, studying English. Will she go into early-childhood education?
“I’m still not sure,” she said. “I love kids.”
Like almost every other part of life, the sour economy has touched the children’s daycare business. Toddle Inn had no waiting list this year, the first time in 20 years.
“People are losing their jobs and staying home to take care of their kids,” Shoudy said. “They say they hope to return as soon as they get their jobs back.”
Meanwhile, the staff extends its expertise by volunteering in the community, Shoudy said.
“We’re all just so comfortable being around kids,” she said.
Toddle Inn is at 6232 Sunlight Shores Lane in Clinton. For information, call 321-0737.