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Rick Hulefeld, early childhood learning legend, steps down from Learning Grove; leaves lasting impact

Longtime Northern Kentucky leader Rick Hulefeld, whose name is synonymous with early childhood education, has announced his retirement from Learning Grove, a nonprofit serving the region for more than 40 years through research-based educational services, prenatally through college and career.

Most recently, Hulefeld served as the organization’s President of Special Projects.

Rick Hulefeld

Hulefeld became the executive director of the Cathedral Child Development Center in Covington in 1979. From there, one center grew into a network of centers and family supports, eventually becoming Children, Inc. before merging with Cincinnati Early Learning Center in early 2020 to form Learning Grove.

“Here is what the 77-year-old me has learned: that when we dreamed deeply enough about something that would make a difference for others, even when we didn’t know how we would get it done, we began it anyhow,” said Hulefeld. “Life sent us what we needed.”

Prior to the merger with Cincinnati Early Learning Center to launch Learning Grove, Hulefeld spearheaded Children Inc.’s extensive programming as its Chief Executive Officer.

In 2017, he transitioned his role to allow for new leadership, with Shannon Starkey-Taylor coming to the helm. Starkey-Taylor continued to grow the agency, facilitating the massive merger to nearly double each agency’s scope and footprint of services.

“Rick’s work set the standard for early learning and family partnerships in our region,” said Starkey-Taylor. “His impact has reached well beyond those direct services to help guide research and policy to change our community’s families for the better. We’ll continue to operate at the highest standard and at the forefront of innovation to bridge Rick’s legacy for decades to come.”

The formation of Learning Grove allowed Hulefeld to consolidate the workload that had previously kept him “beyond busy” as Chief Executive Officer at Children, Inc., giving him time to instead focus on a handful of collaborations that kept the agency at the forefront of serving the region’s children and families.

“Rick always, always knows how to surround himself with the smartest folks in the room, and at the same time they’re looking to him for his leadership,” said Learning Grove Board President Drew Tilow. “His innumerable community partnerships carved a unique path for Learning Grove to really get to know how to set up the entire family for success, beginning with supports for parents to-be, all the way through post-seconary education.”

Hulefeld’s leadership in the community will continue through his efforts to promote greater family partnerships in schools throughout the Commonwealth.

Gifts honoring Hulefeld’s service can be made at any time online at www.learning-grove.org or by reaching out to Major Gifts Officer Tess Burns at tburns@learning-grove.org or 859.431.2075.

In 2018, Hulefeld was named a NKyTribune NewsMaker, cited as a “lifelong visionary and a dreamer, always thinking about the next great thing and putting his intellect and energy behind it.”

The children of our region are better off as a result, said Judy Clabes, NKyTribune founder and editor.

One early learning center led to another for Hulefeld — and to conferences on early brain development, employer-sponsored child care, home visitation programs, before and after school programs and more.

“Rick became a foremost advocate for young children and families in Kentucky,” Clabes said, “and his leadership of a group of talented and dedicated people who built Children, Inc., and now Learning Grove, is a prime example for all of us about what can be done when good people work together for the good of the whole.”

Rick Hulefeld has definitely made Northern Kentucky a better place — and our children are the beneficiaries.

Learning Grove leads with empathy and dedication to provide high quality services prenatally through college and career. To learn more visit www.learning-grove.org. Learning Grove is a nonprofit that has been providing educational services in Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio for over 40 years as Children, Inc. and Cincinnati Early Learning Centers.

Learning Grove and staff report

See the NKyTribune’s story about Rick Hulefeld, 2018 NewsMaker

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