Staci Vinton, a lifelong Gainesville-Hall County resident, didn’t just pursue her passion for helping kids, she harnessed it and started a child care facility.
In 2006, she opened The Academy Child Development Center in Oakwood, which serves infants through pre-K. It also offers after school, holiday and summer care for elementary schoolers.
For nearly 15 years, she has balanced her role as business owner, wife, mother of two, active civic member and educator. On May 6, all her efforts were recognized when she was named Gainesville Jaycees Young Woman of the Year.
“It was very humbling, and I felt very honored to be chosen,” Vinton said.
Katie Dubnik, the 2020 Young Woman of the Year, presented the award to Vinton. She shared that The Academy’s founder isn’t the type of person who takes the spotlight, but a community servant who works behind the scenes.
Jamie Reynolds, executive director of Sisu Integrated Early Learning, describes Vinton as “a beacon of light in the child development center industry.”
“Staci’s call has been, ‘What is the best environment I can provide for a child?’” Reynolds said. “Most centers may not take that approach initially. She really saw years ago the need to enrich every child’s opportunity.”
Reynolds added that Vinton has played an active role on Sisu’s fundraising committee and hosts an annual bicycle event that benefits the nonprofit. The fundraiser entails gathering local children at The Academy to decorate bikes and ride them on a track. With each lap, a donation is made to Sisu.
“The kids love it,” Vinton said. “It’s a fun day for them, but ultimately my goal is teaching them to give back.”
Vinton shared that her parents taught her true compassion and how to love others unconditionally at a young age. During her teenage years she began babysitting and would regularly assist in her church’s nursery. In high school, Vinton said she became a nanny during summers and led as a Sunday school teacher for children in pre-K.
Vinton went on to pursue a bachelor’s in education at Brenau University. While juggling her classes, she worked full-time at the Brenau Child Development Center.
“Being able to have that hands-on experience working at the highly accredited center was really such a special time for me,” she said.
After graduating from Brenau, Vinton taught kindergarten at Flowery Branch Elementary for three years. While teaching, she earned her master’s degree from Piedmont College in early childhood education.
During her time educating kindergartners, Vinton said she was exposed to many kids who were not prepared for their grade level.
“A lot of these children had been in a preschool setting, but I didn’t feel like their foundation had been provided for them,” she said. “With my past experience at Brenau, I felt like it was a lightbulb for me. I know the opportunities children can be given before kindergarten, and the idea began to cultivate.”
With the support of her husband, she built The Academy from the ground up with the goal of offering a “refreshing alternative to traditional child care.”
The facility focuses on helping children develop their full potential as a whole child — socially, physically, emotionally and intellectually. When kids leave The Academy, Vinton said she hopes they gain “strength of character and knowledge to handle all situations along with the potential to succeed in the future.”
“I embrace our tagline of ‘learning for life’ in every aspect of our business, from creating an environment that produces life-long learners with every child that walks through our doors, along with guiding our staff to make each experience one they can learn from,” she said.