Cassandra Taylor, founder of Just For Kids, is an award-winning former elementary school teacher, successful entrepreneur, and children’s advocate. But the title she cherishes most is mother of four. It’s her nurturing spirit and desire to see children succeed in school and beyond, that has helped make Just For Kids the destination for parents looking for more than just another after-school or summer program, but a true home-away-from-home for their school-age kids.
Cassandra began her Chicago elementary school teaching career in 1997, where her principal quickly recognized her innovative and highly effective teaching style. Recognized for her teaching accomplishments in statewide “Teacher of the Year” voting, and recipient of the prestigious Mannequin Society’s highest honor for her contributions to youth, she loved everything about teaching — except being away from her firstborn, Caitlyn.
“I was on maternity leave in 2002 and absolutely dreading the idea of returning to work and leave my precious baby,” she remembers. “At the same time, I was desperately missing teaching.” So, while on leave, I bought a mini-van and started Sandy’s Fun Learning Center at home.”
Cassandra would reluctantly return to the classroom, where she found herself at a crossroads. She was convinced she could accomplish more for children by striking out on her own… but had absolutely no idea what exactly she would be doing.
“After months of prayer and silence, God gave me a very clear vision and direction,” she remembers. “I would establish a safe, fun, and inspiring place where kids could rotate into different areas of interest of their choosing. There would be sports, field trips, before-and-after-school programs, summer activities, and a remarkable facility with themed classrooms.”
With her life’s path clearly marked, she retired from the classroom and started Just For Kids in 2005 inside a rented Church hall. “Hey, it was nothing like my vision, but it was a start,” she laughed. “A year later, I moved Just For Kids into our current Church home on a lease basis for eight years. The facility was amazing, but sharing the space had obvious limitations.”
In 2014, she launched Kidz Rock NFP, a non-profit organization serving inner-city at-risk school-aged children. And she followed up with the formation of Sandy’s Story, which offers emotional support, group and individual counseling for victims of domestic violence. In 2019, Cassandra took a tremendous leap of faith and purchased the Church. “After 13 years, the vision I received is being realized every single day.
For Cassandra, it’s always been about the children.
“When I hear kids laughing, doing projects, playing sports, and enjoying snacks… that’s what makes me happiest. It’s the same feeling I have when I know my four kids are safe and having an awesome time,” she beamed. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a child come up and ask me for another snack — just as if they were home. I love it.”
While Cassandra’s mission with Just For Kids, Kidz Rock NFP, and Sandy’s Story has enabled her to positively impact literally thousands of lives over the years, she believes her work is just beginning. “With our amazing Church home finally secured, our goal is to finalize renovations that will free up space and enable hundreds of additional school-aged youth to take advantage of our many wonderful programs.”