Jess Wardell is a former teacher. Her husband, Corey, is an accounting professional. They never expected to work together in any capacity.
But in mid-2019, serendipity intervened. Corey and a group of colleagues were working on a project that focused on children and families, and they wanted Jess’ professional insights, which she had honed by receiving a master’s degree in elementary education and spending more than seven years at the head of a second grade classroom. Soon, she was immersed in the project. And now the mother of three is thrilled to be the director of kid experience for Kefi, a modern-day family club that opened in 2019 and serves as a gathering spot for kids and parents. A new concept for the Atlanta area, the 30,000-square-foot Buckhead facility is getting rave reviews from the community, thanks in large part to the notable play strategy developed and implemented by Wardell and the team at this center.
How does Kefi work?
This is not a run-of-the mill play place. Those are great, and I’ve been to them, but this is more than an attraction. Our goal is to make life easier for parents and more fun for kids. It’s not just a place for kids to play; it really is a place for families to come in and balance “me time” and “we time.” Kids enjoy a one hour and 45 minute block during which they can play in a meaningful and intentional way, and their parents can visit two parent-only spaces where they can work, read a book or drink a hot cup of coffee at their leisure.
How have you approached the development of Kefi’s play programming?
I wear the hat of former teacher and mom, and I was able to speak to some of the logistics about the ways kids play. My niche is understanding how kids interact with each other as they grow and develop. Every space we’ve designed and every game we create is done with intention and focuses on how we can help foster child development.
What has been the most rewarding part of your job?
For me, it has been so eye opening to see how kids’ needs are continuously evolving and changing. Little ones have even more developmental needs [than I realized]. Watching our families in real time experiencing Kefi and what it has to offer, and being a member myself with my kids, I have learned so much about the importance of meaningful feedback. Our Playsmiths are trained to provide authentic feedback about the kids to their parents, to explain what they notice about each child and how they play. And nothing is more rewarding than the chance to help families. That’s my personal goal—to serve and love others to the best of my ability and make their day better.
Why is this the right time for a concept like Kefi?
This pause in our lives has been intense. Kids have dealt with a lack of social interaction, and parents need a chance to take a moment for themselves. The world has been in a period of transition for half the time we’ve been open, and we restructured our business to meet the needs of the people we serve. We keep our rooms at capacity of up to 10 children, kids are required to wear masks, and when a play block ends, everyone leaves at the same time so we can deep clean. We try to be proactive so we can support our families and give them the experiences they need right now.
3637 Peachtree Road N.E., Suite D
15 Minutes With columnist at Simply Buckhead. Freelance feature writer, children’s book author and President of Green Meadows Communications, LLC.