Women Mean Business: ‘Follow your dream’

Jamie Hult, Staff writer
Building Blocks Childcare and Learning Center owner Beth Hanna. Submitted photo
Building Blocks Childcare and Learning Center owner Beth Hanna is all smiles in this May 2018 Brandon Valley Journal file photo. Hanna gives credit to her husband, Dan, who encouraged her to take a leap of faith into the business. “He was the one who said, ‘Let’s just do it. Keep your head held high, and do what you do best,’” she said. Jamie Hult/File photo

Strong connections key to successful childcare center

“Going to work shouldn’t be work,” says Beth Hanna.
The director of Building Blocks Childcare and Learning Center has been in childcare 27 years, and she genuinely loves her job. 
“If I put in 50 to 60 hours a week, it doesn’t feel like work to me,” she said.
In a way, the director of one of Brandon’s most bustling childcare centers never stops working.
“I wake up to text messages at 5 a.m. ‘What’s the field trip today?’ ‘What do they need?’ Even though we give them a calendar,” Hanna said with a laugh. “Sometimes it’s easier just to ask.”  
Hanna and her assistant director, Whitney Gulbrandson, agree – maintaining strong parent connections is one of the keys to running a successful daycare.
“We are never really off,” Gulbrandson said. “They get to us at all hours, which is fine.”
Hanna said constant communication simply comes with the territory.
“It’s a hands-on, personable job. Parents trust us; they want to see you involved,” she explained. “And when you’re a part of it, things happen.”
Both she and Gulbrandson drive the daycare bus for the preschool building and chauffeur all the field trips for the school-age kids.
The job calls for a lot of flexibility, too. Between the two facilities, Hanna manages a staff of 33 to 44, and most of them have kids of their own. As parents, the staffers have sicknesses and emergencies, too.
“I’m kind of one of those people where my stuff will be put aside, and I will work for them,” Hanna said.
She remains right in the middle of day-to-day operations in her cozy office at the front of the preschool building. Staffers stop in, asking questions about ratios, unique situations, and Hanna is right there with answers as she juggles multiple tasks.
Gulbrandson has been working in childcare since she was 14. She actually worked for Hanna in high school and college at Doodlebugs, which Hanna managed before taking ownership of Building Blocks in 2011.
“She’s great to work for,” Gulbrandson said. “Very flexible, caring. Cares about her staff.”
Hanna earned her B.A. in elementary education and special education from the University of South Dakota, where she attended on a swimming scholarship. She and her husband, Dan, lived in Ft. Wayne, Ind., while he worked as an athletic trainer for the Minnesota Twins’ Class A team. 
When they returned to South Dakota, Hanna worked for Apple Tree and ran an in-home daycare. She was student teaching when she discovered she was pregnant with twins. Jake and Abbi are now college juniors – Jake at North Dakota State University, majoring in P.E., health and coaching, and Abbi at the University of Sioux Falls, studying media and marketing. 
“With our kids close to graduating and entering the big person world, basically I’ve always said to them, ‘No matter what you do, do it with passion,’” Hanna said.
It’s an example she’s set herself for years, not only for her kids, but also for her staff.
“We all have off days, but the kids are never the reason to have a bad day,” she said. “Parents and kids deserve happy people working with them, so hang your bad day up outside and pick it up on the way home.”
She’s treasured many memories since taking ownership of Building Blocks, like opening day and the groundbreaking on the school-age building. The center keeps the good vibes flowing, too, with an annual Building Blocks birthday party every summer.
This year’s celebration will run all day Aug. 14 and includes inflatables, B&G Milky Way ice cream sundaes the kids can make themselves, and a staff appreciation grill out.
Summer is also when Hanna gets a little breathing time. She and her husband have a lake home in northern Minnesota, and they like to travel. Their son, Jake, runs track and cross country for NDSU, and Hanna and her husband, Dan, recently flew to San Francisco to watch him in a track meet.
“That’s kind of where we’re at now, following our kids around,” she said.
To others considering starting their own business, Hanna has one piece of advice: Follow your dreams.
“I can’t take all the credit. My husband has pushed me,” she admitted. “It was always there for me, but it was scary. He was the one who said, ‘Let’s just do it. Keep your head held high, and do what you do best.’”


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