From 1972 to Now – 50 Years of Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend

As a social advocate of disadvantaged families, Bell often heard the most frequent obstacle to their success summed up in the repeated question, “Where is there childcare I can count on?” With no ready answer to the dependable childcare dilemma, Budd (the name she preferred used by friends and close associates) took on the challenge of finding a solution.

Budd Bell Starts Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend

Budd Bell’s vision led to her pioneering the first coordinated childcare in Florida – including helping to pass the pivotal Child Care Bill that helped fund early learning programs across the state. In 1972 Budd established Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend, a service organization that has served thousands of families and has grown to multiple facilities serving Leon, Jefferson and Madison counties. To this day, Kids Incorporated is dedicated to helping children 0-3, their families and pregnant women.

Through the years, Budd continued to nurture the purpose of Kids Incorporated, remaining on the board until her retirement in her ‘80s. She remained an active and influential advocate, using her political connections at the state and national levels for legislation helping those not able to help themselves. Known for being comfortable walking into the Governor’s Office without an appointment (different governors through the years), the next day she could be found in the Capitol hallways selling muffins to support children’s causes.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s Kids Incorporated was funded by public funds and private donations. A contract manager for the state, Pam Davis, worked closely with Bell as funding got tight and smaller early learning child care facilities and agencies were combined with Kids Incorporated. As a former elementary school teacher, Davis appreciated Bell’s focus on early childhood education and helping the whole family. One of Bell’s well known sayings was, “I don’t know a child that didn’t come with a family.”

Pam Davis Joins Kids Incorporated

In the spring of 1992, Davis joined Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend as the executive director, a job that in her own words “was made for me.” When asked why she left her state job for non-profit, Davis knew it was time to “stop making policy and start living policy – to start implementing.” It turned out that Kids Incorporated was the perfect place for Davis, as she spent the next 30 years in her role, bringing services to children, their families and pregnant women.

In her first few years, she still found Bell to be occasionally intimidating and always focused. When asked how Bell influenced her time at Kids Incorporated, Davis was quick to respond with examples both inspirational and practical.

Quotes from Budd Bell include:

Look at the family, not just the children.
We are the steward of the public money and the private donations.
The money and our roles are meant to be of service.
Never sit in judgement. Our role is to serve the family. ~ Budd Bell

Davis also shared her favorite saying from Bell, one that she carried with her through her 30 year tenure as executive director.

"We are empowering parents to be the child's first and most important teacher." Budd Bell

New Services and KidsFest!

Davis developed her own style and programs for Kids Incorporated with services such as the resource van, KidsFest and Holiday Happiness. Many parents with adult children remember Davis pulling up to their house so their kids could trade out the game or book they borrowed on the previous van visit. Her daughter, Jillian Davis, the current Kids Incorporated community engagement manager, was in her Pack ‘n Play for KidsFest planning meetings. Davis’s dedication embodied the Kids Incorporated vision that all children and families should reach their full potential.

Through the years, Davis focused Kids Incorporated on quality of service, encompassing the whole family in programs and connecting parents and pregnant women with other services available within the community. Kids Incorporated is the only early learning program with a family advocate at each center, ready to work with the family from the time of enrollment until the child transitions from the program at age 3. Family engagement activities are also available at each location that range from finances to parenting skills and include a male involvement program known as The Barbershop.

30 years of Service and a New Leader

At 30 years of service, Davis retired, knowing that she had helped countless families and developed a strong leadership team with the knowledge, skills and dedication to carry out the Kids Incorporated vision and mission. Little did she know at that time that one of the people she had mentored and watched grow into a tremendous asset for the organization would be her successor.

LaFonda Heidel, the current executive director and CEO of Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend, was originally hired by Davis. When asked about her thoughts on the transition, Davis was enthusiastic in her praise. “LaFonda is like a daughter to me. She was always the best at helping the parents through any questions or concerns. She kept doing more, learning more – there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. She’s the perfect person to lead Kids Incorporated!”

Golden Anniversary – 50 years of Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend

Celebrating 50 years of service to the community, Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend has helped countless families through the decades under the leadership and dedication of Elizabeth “Budd” Bell, Pam Davis and the newest leader, LaFonda Heidel. They would each tell you it is the teachers, staff and volunteers who are the real heroes. It is the children and families who inspire their dedication.