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July 2, 2024

This business training program keeps CT’s economy running

SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR Waterbury educator Angélica Cervantes fixes her hair after letting a student play with it.

On a Saturday morning in June, “Pomp and Circumstance” filled the solarium at Discovery Science Center and Planetarium in Bridgeport as 20 women, one by one, stepped forward to receive certificates after an intensive 10 weeks of business coursework.

Each of the program’s graduates will go on to run small businesses, based out of their homes, that make up the backbone of Connecticut’s economy. Some are already operational, and others expect to start up soon in a sector where they’re in high demand: child care.

“You provide a key service that allows communities to prosper,” Jill Keating Herbst of All Our Kin, the nonprofit behind the business training program, told graduates during her welcome remarks. 

“You are the teachers. You are the finance director. You’re the head chef,” Herbst said, pausing for effect. “You’re community relations managers, parent engagement specialists, gardeners, maintenance staff, nurses, all in one.”

Connecticut’s early care and education sector, which supports thousands of working parents across the state, takes several forms, from personal nannies to state-funded child care centers with multiple classrooms. 

Most of the industry’s operators are private but draw revenue from state-funded Care 4 Kids vouchers and federal programs like Head Start, which cover some or all child care costs for parents with lower incomes. Running a child care business of any size is a complicated exercise — keeping on top of public subsidy programs, ensuring parents pay their required contribution and, in some cases, fundraising to cover the gaps. 

Connecticut’s 1,800 family child care educators, who typically serve between six and nine children — and whose homes serve as the child care facility — must also be eminently flexible. 

Many provide overnight and weekend care for children whose parents work irregular hours. Based in their communities, they speak multiple languages. And they frequently help parents understand and apply for subsidy programs, assisting with the paperwork. If a family is dropped from one program, child care providers help them find another. 

“We are the main base for parents, for them to be able to go out to work, sure and confident that they are leaving their children in a secure and safe place,” said Angélica Cervantes, a Waterbury operator who’s been through several All Our Kin programs — including this year’s Business Series — since starting up in 2015. 

“We are, like they called us during the pandemic, we are essential workers,” Cervantes said.

That can make it difficult for these small businesses to turn a profit — or break even. But the financial health and stability of the child care system is critical for working parents and, in turn, for the employers who rely on them. 

That’s the reason All Our Kin offers business and accounting programs, Keating Herbst said in an interview. 

“By gaining these business skills, educators are able to run their business in a more efficient way — and ideally build their business so that they can support their families and continue to offer this support in their communities,” she said. “Just like any business, if it’s not run well, it runs the risk of not succeeding.”

All of All Our Kin’s programs are free for home-based child care educators. The organization helps startups get licensed, often visiting providers in their homes to assist in setting up the space. It offers workshops and coaching in child development, literacy, special needs and other education topics. 

When they’re ready, educators can take the 10-week Business Series — three-plus hours a week of instruction in marketing, tax record keeping, contracts, risk management and basic accounting. (A supplemental 3-week accounting course is available to add on.) The organization also helps educators find and apply for grant programs to help them upgrade or expand their facilities.

In Connecticut, roughly 650 providers have been through All Our Kin’s business training.

It isn’t easy. Skilled educators — some with years of experience working with children and families — aren’t always excited about taking on this particular course material. 

“Initially I was completely unwilling to do it,” Marcia Colón said, addressing her fellow graduates during the ceremony with a smile. “I was entirely lost about many of the concepts.” 

But that changed, she said, crediting the instructors and their patience. “I have gained an understanding of what I will be doing on a daily basis and how to run this business,” she said. “Not only did it prepare me for success with my day care business, but it taught me general skills that I can apply over the years of my life.” 

Patricia Santos, a teacher and coach in All Our Kin’s bilingual business programs, said every educator she’s worked with in the two years since she joined remains in business. And many have plans to expand. 

“We see them grow,” Santos said. “We are there with them when they open their doors, when they get one child, when they get two, three, and then they are at full capacity six months later.”

All Our Kin’s coaching often goes months beyond that, Santos said. And many graduates continue their professional development by taking additional courses. Some, including Cervantes — who’s been operating since 2015 — undergo training to become instructors themselves. 

Educators also make strong connections with each other through the experience, developing a professional network they can tap for resources — or just chat with on WhatsApp during naptime.

That’s important in a field like child care, which can often feel isolating. And it’s key to sustainability for these small businesses. 

“The best thing about it is it’s a continuum, continual help,” said Janelle Cooper, one of this spring’s Business Series graduates. “No matter what snags we run into, we’re able to go back.”

Cooper raised her children on her own and often struggled financially during her younger years. Now that her children are older, she felt a calling to provide support for single mothers in the early years of adulthood. She hopes to open a business that offers shelter for mothers and child care, allowing young women to pursue their dreams. “I’m trying to give back and become a resource,” she said.

At the same time, All Our Kin’s coaching and support will help Cooper to make her dream a reality.

“They’ve now become the community that we’re able to reach into when it comes to the resources we need,” Cooper said. “And I’m overjoyed.”

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