Kiddie Kollege: A Durham Story
September 16, 2021 By Benay Hicks
On a warm sunny day in early September, Book Harvest had the pleasure of installing a new Book Box at Kiddie Kollege in Durham. The charming childcare center resembles a family home and sits in a residential neighborhood just off Highway 55 (aptly situated on Hope Street). The front is adorned with brightly colored pollinator flowers, a small vegetable garden, and a toy car that’s been converted into a planter. The sounds of children’s laughter and play are frequently heard echoing from the backyard playground.
Karyn Stith-Wilkerson, the Director of Kiddie Kollege, embodies its charm and warmth. Her parents, Lorraine and David, started the childcare center nearly fifty years ago after running a private business school for adults throughout the 1950s/60s. Southeastern Business College, located in Durham, offered two-year business certificates and equipped its students with the skills needed to work in professional settings. As community colleges became popular in the 1970s, however, private business schools like Southeastern had to either adapt or close.
In 1972, Lorraine and David decided to pivot from educating adults to educating young children; there weren’t a lot of childcare options during that time, particularly for Black and middle-income families. After transforming their old business college dormitory into a childcare center, they opened Kiddie Kollege in 1974. Though the center moved to its current location on Hope Street in the 80s, the original building is still standing near Alston Avenue.
Karyn with Kiddie Kollege students at Book Box ribbon cutting
Karyn was part of Kiddie Kollege from the beginning, helping her parents with the business whenever possible. She received her Bachelor’s in business administration from North Carolina Central University in 1982, and then graduated in 1998 with her Master’s degree in counseling (specializing in early childhood education). After working at Burroughs Wellcome for thirteen years, Kiddie Kollege became her priority in 1995.
Karyn, a Durham native through-and-through, has seen Durham go through many changes. She feels the strain of the city’s recent growth and sees it creating more crime and less opportunity. But her hope is that it can be reversed: “My dream for Durham is that we get the crime under control, and that further economic development strategically ushers in accessible, fruitful opportunities.”
Through Kiddie Kollege and her work within the community, Karyn aims to maintain the ‘small-town feel with big-city opportunity’ Durham is known for. She believes in a Durham where “people help people, talk with their neighbors, recognize each other’s humanity, and care for one another.”
Book Harvest is proud to work with Karyn and Kiddie Kollege to help make her vision for Durham a reality. Kiddie Kollege currently serves children ages 2-4 and considers itself a school readiness program. “We want to make sure the children are prepared for kindergarten,” said Karyn. “We have an academic focus and encourage learning through play.”
The Book Harvest Book Box is located outside and is accessible to all who venture by 618 Hope Street in Durham. All our Book Box and bookshelf locations are listed here.
Pictured left: Kiddie Kollege students with their new books; Pictured right: (from left) Rachel (Book Harvest), Karyn (Kiddie Kollege), Ginger, and Caitlyn with Book Harvest