When Gymboree Play and Music’s Coni Ensor Goudi was unable to find somewhere in South Florida for her and her then 18-month-old daughter to spend time with other moms and kids her age in the early 1980s, she saw its absence for what it was — an opportunity.
“My husband had seen an article about this new program in San Francisco by a mother with two small children — she’d created this concept and was franchising it out — and really with just the interest of finding one we could go to, we discovered there were none in South Florida,” Goudi said. “After researching the idea, we opened our first one and the rest is history. It’s a real success story.”
Goudi, who in 1972 was named both Miss Florida and Orange Bowl Queen, opened her first Gymboree play center in 1984 and has opened two more since. The program, which works with newborns to 5- year-olds, incorporates art, music and school-oriented activities with a focus on fun and learning. Though classes are designed in six-month increments, course durations vary depending on a child’s unique development.
“We’re very developmentally appropriate, so all of the activities we do are geared towards the development of the child,” she said. “As soon as a child and their mother are ready to come in, we encourage them to start in the early, early months. We’ve had children as young as three weeks start our program and go all the way, full term, until they’re 5 years old and ready to start kindergarten.”
Gymboree Play and Music is moving from its longtime Pinecrest location to a new Palmetto Bay spot twice the size. It will be the first center in South Florida to incorporate the new designs, equipment and facilities that eventually will replace the current ones in all Gymboree locations. There will be new cushioned flooring, updated play areas and a spacious lobby for parents to relax, enjoy coffee and socialize.
Gymboree teachers also are learning new lesson plans to coincide with the implementation of the new equipment.
“This will serve to improve the overall experience both the kids and their parents will have,” she said. “We’re encouraging everyone to hang out, make friends, talk and have it be their home away from home.”
Goudi is steadfast in her investment in childhood-related philanthropic organizations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Miami Children’s Hospital, St. Jude’s Foundation, Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Project Newborn and the March of Dimes. She also sits on the board of the American Diabetes Association.
“I’m a big believer in givebacks,” she said. “It’s karma; what you give out comes back. I’ve tried to focus on child-centric causes because that’s obviously where my passion is. When any of our students have an issue where they are in the hospital, we go visit them and try to brighten up their day. I think it’s very important to be community- oriented. We take our health so for granted.”
Goudi recently was named Outstanding Entrepreneur at the 2014 Businesswoman of the Year luncheon held by the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by AXA Advisors. For her, this distinction caps off more than 30 years as CEO of a company that has positively impacted thousands of children’s lives.
“I’ve worked in this business with so much passion that I don’t even feel like it’s work,” she said. “I get out of bed in the morning and I feel like I’m headed off to my hobby. I see what we’re doing with the community, with the children and their families, my new and old Gymboree moms and the fabulous staff that work for us and it’s just a wonderful business. I’m honored.”
Gymboree Play and Music in Palmetto Bay is located at 14109 S. Dixie Hwy. The grand opening took place on Mar. 29 and 30.