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Friday, December 02, 2022

Gainesville mother helps others create family memories

After a Gainesville mother struggled to find activities for her children, she created Fun4GatorKids

Kathy Stewart’s 6-year-old daughter had done everything there was to do in Gainesville, from summer camps to preschool day trips.

Stewart’s children, now teenagers, were always on the go. They needed a website that would be able to keep up with their active lifestyles.

In response, Stewart founded Fun4GatorKids, a website that lists events for Gainesville families. The 12-year-old website was the first of its kind to provide an up-to-date calendar directory on events for Gainesville families.

A recent entry on the website spotlights the ‘Feel “D” LOVE in Depot Park’ event throughout February. The outdoor park offers romantic lighting.

With more than 2,000 positive COVID-19 cases within the last week, Fun4GatorKids continues to have a strong presence throughout the pandemic due to its online component and available virtual events.

Families still need to find something to do with their kids. Businesses still need to reach families through the internet, as they can’t always reach them in person, Stewart said.

“It was just a really great opportunity for us to help families and help connect local families and local businesses and vice versa,” Stewart said.

The Fun4GatorKids team consisted of six people at the beginning of the pandemic. Now, it's just Stewart and her husband.

Despite a dwindling staff, Fun4GatorKids continues to be a leader in local resources for kids activities.

It alerts parents to online options like The Santa Fe Teaching Zoo’s virtual birthday parties and Pure Joy Studios’ virtual music lessons.

“Lots of times I would tell parents about something we had done and they said, ‘I didn’t know about that. How did you know about that?’” Stewart said.

The site lists programs for anyone aged 18 and under, with the majority of its users between ages of 2 and 12, Stewart said.

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“Our tagline is ‘Keeping families in the know and on the go since 2009,’” Stewart said.

April Tisher, a 44-year-old mother, struggled to find activities to do with her four children when she moved from North Carolina to Gainesville.

Tisher, a substitute teacher for Alachua County Public Schools, said hers and Stewart’s children used to play basketball together.

Tisher used the website to find pumpkin patches, gymnastic camps and restaurants for her children to eat free. She knew they would be trustworthy places because they were on Stewart’s site.

With regards to activities, Tisher tries to introduce her children to college events at a young age.

“A lot of times they have things beforehand for kids,” she said. “Face painting and meet cheerleaders, that kind of stuff.”

Stewart’s business originated after moving from northern Virginia to Gainesville in 2004.

While her husband grew up in Gainesville, he couldn’t recall any local family activities. The family struggled to find activities for its child.

“So back then, before there was a Fun4GatorKids, I would go to the Gainesville Sun website, and the library website, and the City of Gainesville website and Facebook and did a lot of Google searches just to try to find what I was looking for,” she said.

Stewart decided to create a family-friendly events website, something she had no experience with.

Her degree was in French and education. Her job experience was in the restaurant industry, she said.

She launched Fun4GatorKids, through the help of her friend, Kristina Wadsworth, and her husband, J Wadsworth, in Oct. 2009.

Businesses didn’t initially flock to her, she said. At the beginning, Stewart spent hours going out, introducing herself, making phone calls and sending emails to businesses.

“It was a new concept at the time,” she said, “not just Fun4GatorKids, but the whole concept of a family calendar directory website.”

Getting businesses to wrap their heads around the idea was challenging, she said. In her first year, Stewart had about 25 advertisers.

Today, she has about 200 to 250 advertisers at any given time. Fun4GatorKids’ Facebook page has more than 60,000 followers, and its Instagram page has more than 4,400 followers.

Stewart declined to comment on how much revenue the website generates.

Three years after the launch of Fun4GatorKids, Stewart wanted to launch similar websites in other markets. Stewart, Kristina and J Wadsworth formed a new company together, Fun4USKids, and sold franchise sites. There are 17 spin-off sites in Florida, two in North Carolina, one in St. Louis and another in San Antonio.

“Now, 10 to 11 years later, it’s an established media outlet, and you ask any parent in Gainesville ‘How do you find things to do with kids?’ and I’ll bet you 99% are going to say ‘I go to Fun4GatorKids,’” Stewart said.

Contact Allyssa Keller at akeller@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @allygatorkeller.

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Ally Keller

Ally is a sophomore journalism major who reports on university news for the Alligator. On a typical day, you can find her at Starbucks, fueling her caffeine addiction.


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