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BLOOMFIELD — Even though she wakes up most days before the crack of dawn, Crystal Jacquez-Aguilar somehow manages to stay energetic and enthusiastic throughout the day.

The Bloomfield woman generally starts work between 2 and 3 a.m. to prepare food before her Nutty Buddies bakery in Bloomfield opens at 6 a.m.

Then, throughout the day, she steps out occasionally to check on her two child care facilities. Love the Children Learning Center has one site on North Fifth Street and another on North First Street in Bloomfield, and Jacquez-Aguilar sometimes stops at both locations before the bakery closes at 2 p.m.

Much of the day, she said, she goes “back and forth like a ping-pong ball” between the three businesses she runs.

Ironically, she said the biggest challenge of running the bakery and the child care centers is finding the time to eat. Still, she enthusiastically greets customers and interacts with the children at the child care centers.

Her work balancing her time between the child care centers and the bakery has not gone unnoticed. Last month, the New Mexico Small Business Development Center at San Juan College awarded the Love the Children Learning Center its Star Client award. The award is given to successful businesses that demonstrate extraordinary commitment to the community.

Jacquez-Aguilar started Love the Children Learning Center about nine years ago after serving as the director of a child care center in Farmington.

At first, she operated the center out of her house. In 2011, she moved the center to its current location on the corner of North Fifth Street and Sycamore Avenue. Two years later, she expanded and opened a second center for older children on North First Street.

Jacquez-Aguilar said her commitment to providing affordable child care prompted her to buy the bakery on North First Street. It’s the same site as another bakery, called Teacup Bakery, was previously located.

The Teacup Bakery had provided the two Love the Children Learning Center sites with meals through a federal program that reimburses the centers based on the income level of the children’s families.

While Jacquez-Aguilar said the program does not reimburse all the money she spends on food, she said it is a worthwhile program because it ensures the children get healthy meals. Losing the bakery, Jacquez-Aguilar said, would have led to a gap in food services.

“We couldn’t (prepare food) at the schools because we didn’t have a kitchen,” she said.

The child care centers, which focus on serving low-income families, have an enrollment of 90 to 100 children, ranging from newborns to 12-year-olds. During the school year, the two centers serve 30 to 60 lunches a day, and that number grows in the summer.

So, facing a possible loss in services, Jacquez-Aguilar decided to purchase the bakery. The bakery serves customers in one section of the building, and another portion of the facility is dedicated to storing and preparing food for the child care centers.

Prior to working in child care, Jacquez-Aguilar was a stay-at-home mother of three. She later worked as a substitute teacher and teacher’s aide. Although she had no experience running a bakery, she said her husband encouraged her to buy the business, and she has been learning as she goes.

After the bakery opened in September, some of the teachers from the two child care centers joined Jacquez-Aguilar at the bakery, and she also hired Carla Pulte, who had worked at Teacup Bakery.

“It’s completely different,” Pulte said of the bakery now.

She said the food options are different, such as expanding the variety of foods offered for breakfast. The atmosphere has also changed. The walls are brightly painted, including one wall painted to resemble red bricks. Metal letters reading “Nutty Buddies” are displayed beneath a metal cross on the wall. Jacquez-Aguilar said her faith motivated her to open the businesses, which are faith-based.

On Thursday, in preparation for Easter, Teanna Maes, a substitute child care center teacher and a cook at the bakery, made cupcakes and decorated them with Easter bunnies and chicks. She displayed the cupcakes in a case with cinnamon buns and cookies.

“I’m really enjoying (the creative) part of this,” Maes said.

While some regular customers from Teacup Bakery still stop by Nutty Buddies, Pulte said the new bakery has also attracted its own following.

The largest customer base consists of high school students and oil field workers. The bakery’s location down the street from Bloomfield High School allows the business to reach students without cars who walk from school to the bakery for lunch.

Also, the families of children from the learning centers have helped spread word about the bakery since it opened in September.

Since she first opened a day care in her home nine years ago, Jacquez-Aguilar has formed close relationships with the parents and families she has served.

“We get to know them and they become parts of our lives forever,” she said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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