Photos by Asia Morris. Cover by Jon Reinfurt courtesy of Kidsguide Magazine.
When Liz Davis, local entrepreneur and mother of two (now fully-grown adults), would drop her kids off at school, “the deal was you always stayed by the kindergarten fence” and chatted with parents about where to enroll your child for swim lessons, where to sign them up for a summer camp or find them a suitable math tutor.
“I thought, ‘Well, this is what people do, but if you’re a working mom and you don’t have time to chit-chat by the fence, how do you find out about these things?’” Davis told the Long Beach Post.
So Davis took matters into her own hands and started to look into all the local activities available for kids. What was composed after months and months of research became a 300-page-long question of, “What am I going to do with this?” The vision was to lessen the amount of time parents had to spend seeking out fun and valuable learning experiences for their children, to enable them to better focus on what is arguably one of the hardest jobs ever, to channel that energy into expanding the lives of their young ones.
Davis thought, why not create a guidebook for families, compiled with that inside information shared at the fence and more?
“I did this out of my house for 18 years,” said the Alamitos Heights resident with a laugh. “[Lauren and Charlie] would be in the room with me, usually crying, laughing, playing in the background as I’d talk to people, but I figured it was Kidsguide so that was acceptable.”
A total of 40,000 copies of the very first Kidsguide Magazine were published in 1986 and distributed to nearly 100 different schools through the Long Beach Unified School District. Kidsguides were sold by the PTA for $5 with the proceeds benefiting student assistance. Eight years later Davis was ready to expand her reach and readership and enticed community support and advertisers into working with a free print publication now, 30 years later, distributed to over 1,000 family-friendly locations in Long Beach and Orange County, with a print circulation of 160,000.
Tina Lopez, a parent who found her first Kidsguide Magazine at her children's pediatrician’s office, praised the directory for being her “go-to guide for all things kids.” Lopez reflected on a time when they had entered a Kidsguide contest, saying, “My kids won a reading incentive drawing and they were so excited to be acknowledged for their hard work. They were invited to come by the office, pick their prizes, and take photos! They felt so special.”
Two Kidsguide covers illustrated by Mad Magazine illustrator, Mort Drucker. Davis' love for children's illustration inspires her to commission artists and illustrators from all over the world to create the cover art for all the Kidsguide Magazines.
Included in the 30th anniversary issue, Davis writes about Kidsguide's history: "It's really about helping you discover good stuff around you—the stuff that expands the world for your kids and makes family life deeper, richer, better. And the tough stuff, too. KG has an emergency section that one reader used to tear out and post in public spaces in case someone needed help—a new mom looking for support, families in need of medical help, teens looking for someone (not mom) to talk to."
Speaking on the first years of running the magazine and the gall required with starting something new, Davis was open and honest, saying, “It was totally scary; it’s scary every year when I begin. You take a lot of risk and you have a dream in your head and you just hope you can get enough people to understand your vision and help make that happen.”
David Perram, Director of Student Affairs at Westerly School, told the Post that Kidsguide Magazine has been a major asset to their community.
"Often times as we see organizations grow, they often lose site of the value of personal connection," said Perram. "Kidsguide is a growing company that values the relationships with the clients—now, more than ever."
Kidsguide’s success has grown steadily, not just because it bridges the gap between parents and opportunities for their children, but because the magazine has adapted to how its readers receive information. Kidsguide has gone from being solely a print publication in the late 80s, to building its own website, and sending out a weekly e-blast sporting over 400 things to do. The company branched out to reach pet owners for the first time in 2008, and alongside the 30th anniversary issue, Liz Davis Publishing will launch the 10th issue of Petsguide in June.
Also launched today is the brand new website, Kidsguide CampGuide, an online guide to all types of the different camps available to youth, with over 100 camps to choose from with updates made on a daily basis. It’s all encompassed in Davis’ vision to provide knowledge of services, activities and events for every stage of your child’s or teenager’s life. The thriving publication has taken a village, to say the least, to ensure its success, and now that its breached its early 30s, Davis and team are just a little in awe.
“I had so many unbelievable people come and help me,” she said. “In the early days it was the Josephine Gumbiner Foundation and GTE [...] This guy who had considered funding the project said, ‘Can you send me copy of Kidsguide?’ And I said, ‘I only have one, it’s the one I printed from Kinkos.’ And I brought it down to his office and he said, ‘Can you leave it with me?’ and I went, ‘No, I really can’t. It’s the only copy I have.’ So I just sat there and waited.”
From the initial idea, to the months of research and the first manuscript printed at Kinko’s, from working out of her home, to expanding into an office and bringing on a hard-working team of four that churns out the work of eight, Davis can certainly pat herself on the back knowing that she runs such a boon to the Southern California familial community.
“Now we’re here 30 years later and the funny thing is, we have readers that have become advertisers, my kids were raised on Kidsguide, now they’re having kids, and that to me is just remarkable," she said.