Daycare opens after being shut down

Daycare workers entertain kids at Gatlinburg's newest childcare center. (Source: Kyle Grainger, WVLT)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A Gatlinburg daycare center has reopened after being shut down by the church that operated it when the church's pastor was indicted for mishandling funds.

Melody Huddleston has worked in daycare centers for more than a decade, but the last 6 months were spent trying to get her own daycare open. Huddleston was part of the staff laid off after Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church shut down the daycare center.

"Glad to have all the kids back and a few of them went to kindergarten but we have most of the ones that were at the old daycare here," said Huddleston. "We're adjusting really well and the kids seem to be glad to be back into a routine."

Huddleston got the help of some friends for money and finding a new location. The church sold her many of the items at a discount to help her open the Gatlinburg Cuddly Cubs.

"The hardest part was getting all the fire equipment put in and fire alarms and stuff like that the state requires," said Huddleston. "Couldn't wait to get it open, Glad that it's open, glad that it's mine. and you know the changes that can be made and need to be done I'll have a say in those."

In February, Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church asked police to investigate their former pastor, Ronald Lukat, after thousands of dollars went missing. The church said it had no choice but to close down the only daycare in Gatlinburg and sell the building.

The church's board of directors also said they thought Lukat was paying federal and state taxes, but have now been billed for more than $40,000 in back taxes.

Lukat was indicted in May for misusing a credit card belonging to the church. The congregation says he spent $3600 on himself. Lukat is expected to be in court in December.

The daycare center is located in the Glades area of Gatlinburg and is still taking children.

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