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AJ's Angels Learning and Enrichment Center in Ruskin born amid tragedy

Nothing good can come from an infant falling three stories and fracturing her skull.

Or can it?

In January 1999, 20-month-old Antonay Harvin took such a spill. Jacqueline Harvin entrusted her only child to a woman she met through her church, never imagining that as Antonay played with another toddler, she would accidently stumble off an apartment balcony and tumble more than 30 feet.

Officials said she survived — barely — because she landed in a flower bed full of mulch, and not on the concrete just inches away from her head.

Jacqueline Harvin said Antonay survived because an angel saved her daughter.

Given how their lives turned out, I'm not ready to argue.

Harvin says a higher power helped her remain faithful through the ordeal. When doctors shaved off all the hair on Antonay's right side to examine the fracture, which ran from her eyebrow to the back of her head, she maintained her faith.

She stayed true when they pried open Antonay's swollen eye to see if it was still functioning, and talked about putting her in a medically induced coma.

Through the five days Antonay spent in intensive care at Tampa General, and the four additional days in the hospital, her beliefs never wavered.

"I couldn't question God," Harvin said. "I just prayed for strength to understand the lesson. I asked, 'What is the message? Where am I supposed to go with this?' "

Harvin didn't know what direction life would take her, but she initially concluded she couldn't return to work. After spending nearly eight weeks on leave from her financial adviser job with GTE Federal Credit Union, she told her supervisor she just couldn't see herself leaving Antonay in someone else's care.

With her husband, Anthony, serving in the Army and the family living in on-base housing at MacDill, she saw a way for them to make ends meet on one income.

It got a little easier when they inherited a home in her native Sumter County and moved there, but Harvin still hadn't deciphered the message as she cared for her child each day.

Caring? Child? Ding!

Harvin turned her focus to learning all she could about child-care licensing so she could begin caring for other children. She took courses at Lake-Sumter Community College and studied state regulations. Although it took nearly a year to gather all the requirements, she began a fledgling business that eventually thrived.

When the couple decided to relocate to Hillsborough County in 2008, they chose Ruskin and opened a full-service child-care center — AJ's Angels Learning and Enrichment Center just south of College Avenue on U.S. 41.

Now Harvin oversees that location and a newer, larger center at 1139 First Ave. NW in Ruskin.

Visually, you see kids enjoying all the niceties you expect to find in a day care center. What you can't see is the size of Harvin's heart. She said she strives to not just care for the kids, but to create a partnership with parents.

Harvin keeps social service information in her office to help parents deal with challenges beyond child care. She posts informative articles and fliers on a bulletin board under the headline "Breaking News."

Unlike other day cares, she accepts drop-ins and is not above picking up one of her after-school students from school and bringing them to the center if they fall ill. She says she has even filled in for clients at parent/career days at school.

What keeps her going?

"It's the light bulb going off in children," Harvin said. "When you see them finally get it, that's the rejoice. There's no greater joy than helping a family or a child."

As for Antonay, she's now 13 and a thriving eighth-grader at Beth Shields Middle School who suffers no complications from the accident. Harvin says she often looks at her daughter and wonders, "What if …"

"I think about the different direction our lives could have taken," Harvin said. "I still look at her as my miracle child."

Harvin calls her fortune a blessing, and she wants nothing more than to pass it on to other parents.

May miracles never cease.

That's all I'm saying.

AJ's Angels Learning and Enrichment Center in Ruskin born amid tragedy 09/02/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:48pm]
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