sheryl-johnson-anna-francis_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE — The Susie C. Holley Cradle Nursery, named for its founder, has been a pillar of Fort Lauderdale’s black community for 53 years.

Originally housed in the First Baptist Church Piney Grove, the nursery, located at 1301 NW 6th Court, is the oldest daycare facility in Fort Lauderdale.

Over the years, the nursery has fallen into a state of disrepair.  A central air-conditioning system was installed four years ago, said Anna Francis, the nursery’s lead teacher, “but it has never been able to support the entire building.
That’s all I can remember that’s really been done.’’

The nursery has not had the proper funding or manpower to do the repairs, said Francis, who has been with the nursery since 1985.

“So some things, like the playground, just never got fixed or replaced, even though we badly needed it,” she said.

That changed on April 15 when Frito-Lay’s national sales team, in Fort Lauderdale for its annual sales meeting, sent 130 of its associates from 26 sales regions across the country to refurbish the nursery.

Outdoor renovations included building a mulch-covered playground with a sandbox and new equipment on the lot facing Northwest 6th Court, the repairing of windows and new tables and chairs used on the back lawn.

Interior renovations included painting, restoration of shelving, the replacement of ceiling tiles, cleaning the existing furnishings, new carpet and furniture, and updating the bathroom facilities.

“We do this type of work each year,” said Chris Kelly, Frito-Lay’s Florida director of sales. “We want to give back to the communities in which our employees work and live.”

Frito-Lay’s associates also performed work at the Cooperative Feeding Program, the L.A. Lee Family YMCA and the Broward Outreach Center, all service agencies in Fort Lauderdale.

“It’s a huge improvement,” Francis said about the work. “Our enrollment is sure to increase; the kids’ faces will have big smiles.”

The nursery serves children ages 6 weeks to 12 years. Its capacity is 131 with a current enrollment of 45, according to Sheryl Johnson, the nursery’s director.

Johnson said that with the new outdoor equipment, the playground is much safer.

“The beautification is an upgrade to the community,’’ she said. “People are driving by and slowing down just to see what’s going on. This couldn’t have happened at a better time. The kids will love coming to a place that’s so beautiful.
We are happy because of the increased safety.”

The nursery plans to continue the renovations by replacing the fence area and securing the gate bordering its property, repairing the outdoor signage and painting the building.

“We’ll host a fundraiser in June to raise monies to continue the work,” Johnson said.

The Rev. John Williams of First Baptist Church Piney Grove, who serves on the nursery’s board, said he hopes that “word of mouth about the restoration” will cause others to be “more willing” to bring their children into the nursery.

“It’s a neighborhood place,” Williams said, “and it’s the people who live or work in the community that support it. Many grow up and bring their children back.”

Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT STAFF. Sheryl Johnson, left, director of the Susie C. Holley Cradle Nursery, helps spruce up the daycare center’s grounds on April 15 with Anna Francis, right, the nursery’s lead teacher.