A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Early childhood education innovator honored on retirement; City declared ‘Rick Hulefeld Day’

Staff report

The median age in the city of Covington is 36.9 years, federal officials say, which is six years less than the 43 years Rick Hulefeld has dedicated toward the cause of early childhood education in Kentucky.

In other words, well over half of the people in Covington weren’t even alive when Hulefeld began working on behalf of children here, where he founded an incredible and innovative nonprofit, Children Inc. which has now expanded into the Learning Grove.

To honor Hulefeld’s over four decades of fierce advocacy, tireless efforts, and sustainable success, the Covington Board of Commissioners declared May 11 as “Rick Hulefeld Day” in Covington. And last evening, a group of his friends, colleagues, and associates held an event at Learning Grove honoring Hulefeld on the occasion of his retirement from the thriving organization he built on a dream.

Rick Hulefeld and his wife, Mary, and Covington city leaders.

Hulefeld recently announced his retirement from Learning Grove, a nonprofit that operates a network of centers supporting children and their. He began serving as executive director of Cathedral Child Care in 1979 and was founder and leader of Children Inc. until 2017, when the organization merged with a Cincinnati agency to form Learning Grove.

Statewide, Hulefeld served a leadership role in the Governor’s Taskforce on Early Childhood Development and Education and then as chairman of the Kentucky Early Childhood Advisory Council for several years, testifying often before committees of the Kentucky General Assembly and generally acting as an ambassador to promote the wisdom and benefits of early childhood education.

He brought an annual Brain Conference to Covington that focuses on the science behind the critical brain development that happens in a child’s first three years of life and to introduce a K-12 service learning initiative that grew to serve as many as 25,000 students and teachers yearly. He also was the godfather of the City’s current Read Ready Covington early literacy initiative.

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer, who was secretary of the Kentucky Education & Workforce Development Cabinet when then-Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Hulefeld to chair the newly created advisory council, called Hulefeld “an indefatigable champion” of early childhood education and said families and communities throughout the Commonwealth will reap the benefit of his work long into the future.

More recently, Hulefeld was named a NKyTribune NewsMaker for his long-time service to the community.

Rick Hulefeld with young fans — and beneficiaries of his work.

“Recognizing Rick on the occasion of his retirement is really the least we could do to say ‘thank you’ for all that (he’s) done for us all,” Meyer said.

At the gathering in Hulefeld’s honor Thursday evening, long-time friends spoke of his dedication, his “silly” humor, his sincerity, his big heart — and his non-ending ideas for improving the lives of children and families. Hulefeld, they agreed, understood the importance of a focus on the early development of the child long before the issues were generally embraced by the education system or the public.

“Covington is an extraordinary place to build a dream,” he said. “We don’t do anything alone, or at least we shouldn’t try,” Hulefeld said.

But Hulefeld also cautioned leaders not to rest.

“We still face challenges,” he said. “Too many of our children are not reading at grade level at the end of the 3rd grade – early childhood has a whole lot to do with that. Too many of our high school students are graduating without a real plan that they believe in, that’s based on their strengths, their interests, and their hopes.”

Hulefeld has become a legend in his own time — and his work will continue to be embraced — and advanced — by the team at Learning Grove.

See NKyTribune’s other stories about Rick Hulefeld here.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment