Karen Clark started babysitting at just eight years old in her hometown of Lompoc. Those early experiences sparked a love of caring for children that set Karen on a path across the globe to guide generations of children into adulthood with her special blend of love, creativity, and immersion in the natural world.
As a teenager, Karen continued her babysitting work while also working at a local horse farm. But as busy as she was in high school, she also found time to fall in love—Karen and her husband Bobby were high school sweethearts who married right after high school. The young couple left California when Bobby enlisted in the Air Force.
To keep connected to the profession she loved, Karen had to overcome logistical challenges. Because there were no child care facilities near where they were stationed in Germany, she drove across the border to work at a child care in Holland for over a year. One day, a neighbor gave her the idea to open a child care in her home for the families living on the base. She’d never had her own business before, much less in another country, but over her three years working from the base, she launched a successful business model that fit the needs of children and their families—as well as Karen’s need to pursue work she loved.
“I couldn’t see myself in an office filing all day,” Karen says, “I like going outside and playing in the parachute! I really can’t see myself doing anything else. It’s enjoyable, sometimes scary, but it’s all worth it.”
After four years abroad, they moved back to the United States. They lived for a few years in Mississippi and eventually found their way back to California, adopting four children along the way. Like many family child care providers, Karen learned that opening up her home to other children was the best way to work while also caring for her own kids.
Now settled on a large plot of land in their hometown of Lompoc, Karen—with help and support from Bobby—has been able to take her creative approach to teaching children to a whole new level. The kids have seen caterpillars turn into butterflies, raised chicks, guinea pigs, and rabbits, planted and harvested fruits and veggies, and even helped tend to Karen’s horses. Every day is a new adventure, and Karen enjoys every moment.
Twenty years after returning to Lompoc, Karen continues to serve the families in her community, cherishing every child she’s entrusted with as an extension of her own family. She takes great pride in creating lesson plans that fit each age group, making accommodations for any child that may need alternative forms of learning, and dedicating extra time to those who need it. They spend their days together, learning and growing.
“It’s all about love,” Karen says. “You give it, and you get it back. I love the interaction; I love watching the kids in my care grow up, and I love seeing the awe in their eyes when they see something they’ve never seen before.”