It's episode 2 of The Child Care Business Podcast. Today, we're talking with Rhonda Meyers, who runs Heartfelt Impressions Learning Centers in Michigan. Rhonda’s story is one of incredible courage in the face of extreme adversity. In less than two years, Rhonda became a single mom of four kids, her sister and her young children moved in with her, her dad was diagnosed with liver failure, her mother died of lung cancer, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she was fired from her child care director role.
Down, but definitely not out, Rhonda summoned her strength, courage and support from her friends and family to open her own child care center on a shoestring budget. With the success of her first center, she has opened two more centers and shows no signs of stopping. She’s a survivor, and a walking example of when things don’t go according to plan, you keep going – even when you’re terrified – because when you come out on the other side, you’re a better, stronger and happier person.
Rhonda Meyers is co-owner of Heartfelt Impressions Learning Centers – of which there are three locations in Michigan. She is recognized locally and statewide as a passionate and committed leader in the field of Early Childhood. She is a proud Alum of Hope College, where she completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Sociology. She also has a master’s in Early Childhood Education from Oakland University.
She has served on the faculty of Baker College, Henry Ford Community College and Schoolcraft College. She serves on the governing board of Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children, is past president of Metro Detroit AEYC, and is active in the Great Start Collaborative – Oakland’s Strategic Leadership group and various committees of the collaborative.
To get more insights on ways to succeed in your child care business, head over to our Resource Center at https://www.procaresoftware.com/resource-center/.
Have an idea for a podcast or want to be a guest? Email us at [email protected]
Speaker 1 (00:08):
[inaudible] welcome to the childcare business podcast brought to you by ProCare solutions. This podcast is all about giving childcare, preschool, daycare, afterschool, and other early education professionals, a fun and upbeat way to learn about strategies and inspiration you can use to thrive. You'll hear from a variety of childcare thought leaders, including educators, owners, and industry experts on ways to innovate, to meet the needs of the children you serve from practical tips for managing operations, to uplifting stories of transformation and triumph. This podcast will be chalk full and insights. You can use to fully realize the potential of your childcare business. Let's jump in
Speaker 2 (00:53):
Everyone and welcome to the childcare business podcast. My name is Ryan [inaudible] and I'm thrilled to have you join us today. Welcome to episode two of our podcasts. And boy, do we have an amazing guest today? Rhonda Meyers is co-owner of heartfelt impressions learning centers of which there are three locations in Michigan. She's recognized locally and statewide as a passionate and committed leader in the field of early education. She is a proud alum of hope college, where she completed her bachelor's of arts degree in psychology and sociology. She also has a master's in early childhood education from Oakland university. Rhonda has served on the faculty of Baker college, Henry Ford community college and Schoolcraft college. She currently serves on the governing board of Michigan association for the education of young children. She is the past president of the Metro Detroit, H E Y C, and is active in the great start, collaborative Oakland strategic leadership group, and various committees of the collaborative Rhonda.
Speaker 2 (01:56):
Welcome to the show. Thank you, Ryan. I'm really excited to be here. Did I, so, so quick question, reading your bio. Did I hit everything correctly? Was everything that we stated? Yup. Yeah. Um, so the only difference is like the great start collapsed. Some of those things have kind of catered off in the last year and a half clearly. You know, we have a lot of things, a lot of things going on. Yeah. There's been, there's been some change over the past year. We'll talk about a couple of things. So I gotta ask about this because people, when they listened to this podcast, our audience, isn't going to be able to see, we were joking about this before we came on the air about people. Aren't going to be able to see the video portion of this, but what I'm, what I'm looking at right now is the one piece of art on the wall sitting behind you. It's the only thing I see. And I want to ask about it. It says be fearless. What, what does that mean to you and why, why is that? It's obviously important enough to be hanging there. So talk to me about this.
Speaker 3 (03:00):
It is, it's actually the first thing I hung. I, we just moved into this office, uh, two days ago and, uh, it was the first thing I hung up to remind me. And the funny thing about it is you're not really fearless, right? Because everyone feel, feels and experiences, fear, but it's what you do when you experience it. And for me, what's proved successful is to push past the moment where the fear starts. And sometimes I act fearless, even though I don't feel fearless,
Speaker 2 (03:34):
Love that. Yeah. I've heard, I've heard people talk about, uh, what courage is. You know, people think that individuals or groups who are courageous don't feel fear, but that's actually not the case. Courage is just moving forward in the face of fear. Right. And so,
Speaker 3 (03:51):
Yeah, it's so funny that you would choose the word courage because as I reflected today on our conversation, you know, I know that this is an opportunity in a really difficult time for me to share something that will hopefully be meaningful to the early childhood community. And during the pandemic, I did a virtual keynote, um, and it was called courageous leadership. And so I studied the word courage and their original definition of courage. Like when it first came to our English language was from the Latin word core, which means heart. And so the original definition of courage was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.
Speaker 2 (04:37):
Amazing. I did not know. I have had a chance to read some notes, look into a little bit of history that we have here at Pro-Care with you. I got to see a speech that you gave, I think at some point over the last couple of years, but I wasn't aware of that speech that you're speaking of. Um, so I do want to, like, I think threaded through this conversation today, I think we're going to continue to talk about that a little bit and layer some things in, but I, and I, this podcast you're exactly right. It's so much about what can we draw out from your experience and your story and your history that is going to be inspirational to our audience? Because I think that is super important for people to just have people to look to in the industry, but also tactically.
Speaker 2 (05:24):
Like I think sometimes we can focus a lot on the story side and people will talk about details in their story and, and individuals who hear that will come away and say, yeah, but how did she execute that? Or how did she go about that? So I also want to talk some specifics, but I want to just give people a chance to, to get to know you a little bit. Can you talk about going way back? Where did you grow up? Where are you from originally? And, and maybe just as an open-ended question, when you think of your childhood, what comes mind? What could you share with people about where you grew up and how you remember that?
Speaker 3 (06:02):
Well, I'm not a spring chicken, so I grew up a couple of decades ago and actually the first decade of my life, I spent living in Detroit. And, um, during a time that was probably the last time I remember in my lifetime being as emotionally charged about race and differences as we are today. Um, and so, you know, that plays a role in how you reflect and who you're spending time with. And, um, but when I really reflect on my childhood, I think the model that my parents gave me were two things. Um, it was one, see people like see them. I didn't know that's what they were teaching me before. They were just, you know, like you get to know people first, right? You just, you don't judge based on what you see. Um, and, and giving that, that opportunity. And then I can, every time in my lifetime that I've thought I'm afraid, this is too hard. I can't, my mom's answer was always, you can, of course you can. And I know that I was blessed to have that experience. After the first decade, we moved to like a very rural, I drove the, I wrote a bus for the first time in third grade, I walked to school before that. So it was a dramatic change. Um, and it was small town. So there were two very different experiences.
Speaker 2 (07:39):
So moving from Detroit to a rural area, what walk me through, just for me out of curiosity, you walk out your front door after you moved into a more rural setting, what do you like? What do you see? So Rhonda walks out
Speaker 3 (07:52):
Some woods, that's it like yard and woods. And we moved to the place where homes were being built. It was like a new development of just these little ranch subdivisions, but we were, there were so many places being developed. And I think I spent the next six years building forts and climbing trees. Yes, literally.
Speaker 2 (08:12):
There's not enough of that for kids nowadays. It doesn't seem like, so kids in the neighborhood, you met the neighbors and you would meet. And the rule was something to the effect of when it starts getting dark come home.
Speaker 3 (08:25):
That that is literally, my dad taught me how to whistle. I would do it, but it would make you literally deaf. And when we heard the whistle, it was dinner and you had better be home. And that was it. I mean, I have four grown children and one left in high school of my own. And it, it w it has definitely changed that feeling of comfort of sending them out and not worrying.
Speaker 2 (08:51):
I think that was a skill that they must have taught parents when they were kids that generation, because that whistle seems to be a universal. My father-in-law, my wife still talks about that exact same whistle. And then he also had like a finger snap when they were within earshot of the finger snap. That was like the loudest sound. She still remembers that too. So what about, do you remember as a child, like during those early years thinking about what you want it to be when you grew up? I know, you know, I want to ask a follow-up question about your mom too. Cause it sounds like which is the case often it was a huge influence on you, but do you remember thinking as a young child, what you want it to be, or even thinking about those types of things?
Speaker 3 (09:34):
Um, my mom had this book for me, where I circled the, every year, what I wanted to be when I grow up. And I think it changed every year. I do remember like at times wanting to be a teacher, but it was always deeply influenced by the positive relationship I either had or did not have with the current year teacher.
Speaker 2 (09:54):
That's amazing. We'll, we'll, we'll maybe double click on that at some point how impactful teachers can be. And then what did your, what did your parents do like growing up? So like, would you consider yourself growing up? Were you in a, in a home where money was always, you know, available? Was it always rough? Was it a stretch? Talk to us about
Speaker 3 (10:15):
Interesting. I mean, my dad, um, was first of all, I was a product of probably the first generation. There weren't as many kids as I was, who came from a divorced family. I had young parents, my biological parents divorced when I was a year old and my mom remarried before I was five. So my stepdad, when I re referenced, like growing up, I'm referencing my nuclear family, being my stepdad and my mom. And then I have brother and sister, but my dad, he came back from the Navy and, um, he worked for Cadillac motors. And when we moved to in the shop and when we moved to Lapeer, um, I won it. He'd leave work at 4:00 AM. And on one of the first year, he was hit by a drunk driver, fifth drunk driving offense that this man had and hit my dad on his way to work crossed over the middle line.
Speaker 3 (11:12):
My dad broke his back and essentially he couldn't return to the work he did. So I remember my dad getting up to deliver newspapers. I remember my parents because at the time my brother was young, like five and my mom hadn't been working. She'd stayed home from the time I think he was born is when she stopped working before that she was a single parent and working. Um, and so they started cleaning doctor's offices and like, whatever it took. And at that point, my mom went back to work as a secretary in a real estate office. And by the time she finished her career, she was a broker who closed, ran entire offices and closed. Um, like when you go to buy a house and the title company does the closing for you? That was her. She was the numbers girl. And my dad, when he finally did get work again, it was in a shop. And just about, I guess it's been three years now. He's been retired, so. Okay. And so you as a first-generation college graduate.
Speaker 2 (12:17):
Yeah. Amazing. So when you was college, always something like growing up that your parents did, they set the expectation that that was the next step in life, or was that you crafting that narrative for yourself?
Speaker 3 (12:30):
No, my parents want, you know, they're, it's that traditional story of your parents wanting more for you right there, there was pressure for grades and there was pressure for performance. And, you know, this was the answer, not to have the Stripe and challenges that we had to had, you know, that having a degree opened doors for you that had those kinds of things happens, you truly have more choices. And, you know, I would say based on my life experience, that's true.
Speaker 2 (13:02):
That's worked out and, and, and so you immediately started studying psychology and sociology. And what was the idea or what was the thinking at that point on how you were going to translate that? Was it still kind of thinking, moving into being a teacher or education, or did you have different thoughts at that point?
Speaker 3 (13:19):
My plan was to go to graduate school and be a school psychologist or social worker, probably psychologist, but, you know, I dabbled in the social work place of, I had a deep passion to change the world so much. So, and I look back now, my junior year of college are our social, uh, one of our social work professors. We took a trip to Washington DC in a big old van, literally drove all night, slept on a church floor and marched for homelessness. Like I was literally going to change the world,
Speaker 2 (13:52):
Um, fire. And you still are changing the one we'll we'll we'll we'll get to that. Yeah, for sure. So at what point then did the, the dots start to connect in terms of your, your kind of March into the childcare industry into early education? Because it sounds like that's as post-college, there was something that came up. Talk to me about, you know, cause I'd love to spend, I always tell people this, I would love to spend all day in here, like every detail of your story. Cause I love to hear people's stories, but talk to me about, as you get out of school and as you kind of start looking at a career, at what point did childcare come into view and, and how did that happen?
Speaker 3 (14:33):
I don't think that my story is unique based on my experience. Um, because I asked people's stories and so, um, got married while I was still in college, my senior year to my college sweetheart. And we, the very first year out of college had a baby and I worked in a job I could get because you know, with a bachelor's degree in social work and psychology, you need grad school. And that just wasn't in the financial cards and I was miserable and the short story is then I quit working. And during that time I was, so I was 22. And when I was working, everybody said, Oh, that's such a shame. Someone else will be raising your child for you. And I was mortified. And I thought, Oh my gosh, I can't have people thinking that about me. And so then when I stopped working, uh, people would say, Oh my goodness, that's so just devastating that you wasted all that money on that expensive education.
Speaker 3 (15:31):
And it hit me and I realized, well, crap, you know what? It turns out. I'm never going to be able to make everyone happy. So I was taking all the cues externally from what I was supposed to do. And I had so much energy and passion, but I loved being a parent. And my husband, luckily he was in tune and really understood who I was and was supportive. But his way of being supportive was to start bringing home newspapers when ads were in newspapers with jobs circled. And it's actually, it's actually his credit because he was the one who circled the job as a preschool teacher and said the best of both worlds, you would be with our son, Jordan, and you would get to be with children, which, Oh my gosh, you've always been happy when you're around kids. It sounds perfect. And sure enough, I interviewed for that preschool teaching job and they hired me as a director in training and that's where the story started
Speaker 2 (16:30):
And that's where it started. So you went in interviewed to be a preschool teacher. They said there might be a path for you as a teacher, but we see some administrative credentials. Did you end up teaching for a little bit in the classroom as you were in the director, I guess mentorship program? Or how did that work for you?
Speaker 3 (16:47):
Oh no, no. I was in a director role within, Oh, I want to say six to 10 weeks over the years I've been in teacher roles. I've chosen to be in teacher roles, but at that time, no street cred whatsoever as a director,
Speaker 2 (17:05):
Be a director, we need you to run some things. So, so, and then over time, how long were you in that role? And then when did it transition into, I want to talk about, cause I've heard you discuss this a little bit already in, in a presentation I saw, but I want to talk about your transition into ownership and how that work, but how long were you in that initial role and then how long between that first position as a director and when you own your first school?
Speaker 3 (17:34):
Okay. So I was in with that company for five years because I had my second son who was a preemie. They allowed me to kind of write my own part-time position, doing some troubleshooting and supporting directors and some coaching. Um, I left there again to balance my family. We had moved and, um, took a position with less responsibility teaching for that period of time because we had one had gone from one to three children. Um, and then honestly I was doing something for my church and got a phone call in the town that I lived in, that they will, that they, my church wanted me to help them. You know, you know, it is a church they're like, Hey, so that's willing to help. Right? And so they wanted to know if they could have a preschool, like a traditional little preschool in the church as they were doing an expansion project.
Speaker 3 (18:29):
So I called the township forum and they said, Oh my gosh, call the people across the street. They're building this huge early childhood program. Well, there really was no other early childhood programs in our community. And I skipped hold on. I skipped, I only worked for that job in the teaching position for a year. And then I did home daycare. Um, so I was a licensed group home daycare provider for five years because I decided I needed to get that grad school done. And I also had a fourth child. So my husband traveled and that fit for our family. So that's a five.
Speaker 2 (19:02):
So that's a follow-up podcast at some point is talking to your kids about what it's like to have your mom running a home daycare. We could do a whole, like a whole series on that. I'm sure
Speaker 3 (19:12):
We need to do some filtering if you're getting,
Speaker 2 (19:16):
So you did the home daycare and the tr the church asks you for some insight about helping their vision for a preschool. And then you connected with, you said there was another large school opening in town. Yeah.
Speaker 3 (19:30):
Yeah. These people who are building a center, literally across the street from my church. And then when I asked them the questions are like, well, who are you? And what do you know? And, uh, it was like, uh, you know, that, that, and I told them kind of my history. And then they started talking to me about a job and I was like, Oh, I worked for myself for five years on and off. I want to work for somebody, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to build something amazing in our community. So in 2002, I said, yes, took the job. Literally all it was was a piece of land. I took over the architectural drawings with the architect, everything from there on out built, wrote the job description. So it was the equivalent of being an owner, but I didn't like it. Wasn't my capital and I wasn't the owner, but everything I did, I carried around the blueprints for a year. I literally set up shop in the library to build excitement and show people and do interviews and tours because I didn't have a building. And so we broke ground in like August of 2002. And we opened in June of 2003. And I mean, this for 2003, this center was licensed at the beginning for 250 students. Wow. And we were NAYC accredited within 18 months. So you can't apply for accreditation in less than a year of existence. And by the 18 month Mark, we received, um, notification with over 250 students that we had achieved accreditation.
Speaker 2 (21:05):
And, and so you started that process, the NACY accreditation 12 months after you opened. So the actual process took you six months. You guys got everything buttoned up during that period of time.
Speaker 3 (21:15):
Yeah, because I'm a strong believer that if you're going to speak for quality, it's not about checking a box. It's about living in a culture where that's an embedded piece of the culture, not just like a static quality is something you're always kind of evaluating and adapting in any world. Um, and so it's, it's a part of your practice, not a box that gets checked and then you go back to it in awhile.
Speaker 2 (21:42):
Yeah. Like that's a great way to describe it. It's, it's who you are as a company, as a school, as, as a person and what you kind of want everything you do to be influenced by talk to me about, because I, I want to fast forward a little bit because where I want to spend a little bit of time, or at least the rest of our time is, you know, I think your story so many people will be able to relate to, you know, look there's ups and downs. As I worked for this owner of the school, there were really high highs in terms of what we built and what we built for our community. And there were some rough times, but it all kind of culminated for you into a period where it was time for you to pursue your, your own dream or own ownership.
Speaker 2 (22:27):
And, and, uh, I want to talk about how that unfolded for you. And I want to talk about what was happening for you, like mindset wise. I think it lines up with what we talked about at the top of the show of being fearless and courageous. But I also want to talk about the tactical piece of that and how you actually made it happen. Because if I heard your story correctly, you did it with no money. Like, I think that's a hurdle. A lot of people see hurdles and they say, there's just no way I could pull off something that I'm feeling called to do because of X, Y, or Z. And can you talk a little bit about what was happening for you? Um, just your own self-talk at that point, like, how am I going to move myself forward? And then can you also talk about how you opened a center with no money? Yeah.
Speaker 3 (23:16):
Yeah. So, um, and stop me if there's something that you want me to hone in on, in may of 2008, I had, I had four children, of course, we're in a recession and my 18 year marriage to my college sweetheart ends. So that was a major life change. Three months later, my dad is diagnosed with liver failure and the only chance for him is a transplant and it has to happen very quickly. Um, fast forward, nine months later in April of Oh nine, my mom was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in may, within a month, my little sister, because of course I'm divorced, right? So I have an extra half of my bed and I only have four children and six seems better than four. So my baby sister says, I'm going to move in with you. I'm going to bring my one in three year old.
Speaker 3 (24:17):
Cause she lived in Connecticut and her husband needed to work. And we were going to share caring for my mother, helping my dad through chemo, radiation, long trips, all of the things that it took to care for somebody who's going through such an intensive battle for their life. So we literally did like 2009 version of the Brady bunch, six kids in the house between the ages of one and 18, literally chaos every day and battling all these things. And about four months later, my dad was given two weeks to live. Um, and 10 days later he received a liver transplant, which was incredible. And anybody who's ever gone through the transplant process, it is unbelievable. And three days later after that, my oldest son left go away to college. Now, if anybody knows Michigan, you know, upper peninsula, lower peninsula, he picked a college called Michigan tech.
Speaker 3 (25:16):
It is 10 hours away and he could have gone to Georgia tech and Ben closer. So, um, it was a bit emotional to have that first baby leave the nest and a year and three days after my mom's diagnosis. So about, you know, three quarters of the way through my son's first year of college, I lost my mom and my children lost their grandmother. Yeah, same mom who told me anything I couldn't do do I could. And on her funeral was on a Tuesday. And during this time of 2009, one of the owners had decided to take a more active role in the business. Up until this point, they literally gave me metrics. They didn't come in the building. They didn't want to have anything to do with day-to-day operations, but because of the, um, recession, they felt they weren't making enough money. Now we'd only reduced maybe 10 to 15%, um, and our enrollment, but there was just this push.
Speaker 3 (26:19):
And because her background was CEO, engineering, manufacturing kind of background, she kept using terminology like lean manufacturing, and I'm like, it just, it doesn't, it doesn't fit. And I, and I started to see the writing on the wall. I was being pushed to do things that I wasn't comfortable doing. I was asking to treat staff in a way that didn't resonate with who I was and what I believed. But again, I'm a single parent. I have one income and all these other things going on in my life. And my mom's funeral was on a Tuesday. And on that Friday, this particular owner, there were three owners sat me down in my office and she said, do you have a two week administrative leave? You need to grieve, get over it, get back here and make us some money.
Speaker 4 (27:04):
Speaker 3 (27:06):
And I was like, what, what? So I was supposed to take two weeks. Um, she said, I had cried in front of parents and, and I was like, these are parents. What, what she couldn't understand from the outside, but is so unique to early childhood. And all of my peeps listening will re this will resonate is that you don't do this well, you don't do this work well, unless you are in deep, respectful and reciprocal relationships with families and your staff, that's the only way it can be done well. And I believe that with every cell of my being, and that means that parents have come to me when their marriages were falling apart, parents have come to me when they've had miscarriages, they've had family members who are like, that's just the world we live in. And so to say that part of it was I needed to be stoic and execute, and it just didn't fit with who I was.
Speaker 3 (28:05):
So I took that two week leave and I decided, you said, what was the tactical? The tactical could have been, I could have blown it up. I could have tried to get people to side with me. I could have done the whole, like, this is so unfair thing. And I literally said, I will be who I am to the core of my being. I'm going to take this time. I actually flew to Sedona, Arizona, which is why the only money I did have in the bank, which was less than $4,000. I use to take a trip for three days to take care of myself and to grieve and just let go of some of it without my four children. Um, I came back and a month later I was diagnosed with cancer.
Speaker 4 (28:49):
So there's a few things going on in this season of life. Yeah,
Speaker 3 (28:54):
Just a couple. And you know, if you like collectively, when I put it on paper, I'm like, Holy crud, like, Oh my gosh, except in the moment, what I was telling myself is this is hard. This is so hard. But when I reflected the gratitude I had for the house that I had, that I was still able to keep my children and, or, you know, that I had a job or that I was surrounded by people who loved me or a tribe of people who believed in me. And so I guess the tactical part was really both the resiliency to say, I still, I can do this. Like, this is super hard, but I can do this. And surrounding myself with other people who believed I could, and I heard a gratitude, like I had to regret it. Grateful.
Speaker 2 (29:50):
What is that gratitude for you? Do you think, is that something you learned over time or is that innate to who you are? And I guess the reason for that question is that something, everybody you think can learn or you either have it, or you don't.
Speaker 3 (30:02):
I think some people are predispositioned, right? It comes easier to some people. And I definitely think that our well, we know because we're early childhood professionals, we know that our early years and the trauma we either do or do not experience, you know, impacts that dramatically. We know that the neural pathways that are created by our experiences early in our life are kind of, you know, that net of, you know, but that doesn't mean you can't. I think that the, each one of us is presented with a choice each time, right? Like this is either something to overcome, or this is something to tell you to quit
Speaker 2 (30:45):
And you get to choose how you respond to it. And so you came back from Sedona, I want to ask about, and I think there were some things that opened up and doors opened around your first school that you purchased. Not yet. So it's still working through that, so, okay. So let's talk
Speaker 3 (31:04):
Working. I came back to work. So I took the two weeks and I'm like, I'm going to prove that I can do what they want. So, um, and then of course, you know, a month in, I get cancer. So what happens is I have, I'm supposed to be on a six week leave, right? Because it was a major surgery. Um, but, but here's the blessing. Do you know how I found out I had cancer? The short story is when I went to Sarah Sedona, Arizona, something happened that that forced me to go get a screening test. That's a whole nother conversation. That screening tests saved my life. If I hadn't been put on administrative leave, I wouldn't have gone to Sedona. If I didn't go to Sedona, I never would have gotten that test. And I don't know what the outcome would have been. I don't know what stage my cancer would have been in.
Speaker 3 (31:49):
And so that to me was a gift. Well, but two weeks into my leave, my long-term employee, Amy, who'd been with me at this point, Oh gosh, 15, 17 years. She says the preschool down the street that was independently owned and operated. The Montessori is closing. And I'm like, okay. The big push for us was you need to get more enrollment. I'm like, come get me. Cause I literally got home from the hospital the day before she was, are you nuts? I said, look, if you don't come get me, I know where my keys are and I'm gonna drive myself. So knowingly met me. Well, Amy came and picked me up. I drove to the center, I have pulled up the stairs somehow. And I said, look, I know you're closing. I would like to make an offer to your families. Right. I want to capture, it's like 40 FTEs.
Speaker 3 (32:41):
Um, and she said, that's great. I'd also like a job. And I'm like, ah, we don't like Mani teaching two different curriculums in school. I don't know. But I was, I was so micromanaged at that point that I said, I'd take it to the owners. Well, the long story short is the owners, the one strong voiced or thought it was a great idea. And also behind the scenes decided this must be a perfect person who would be compliant with the things she wanted to do. And slowly over the next let's see, that was like June. So June to February, the next seven months began the behind the scenes behavior too. Remove me from the position and put this woman in my position. Wow. And that's what happened on February. I think it was February 11th. I used to know this, like it was an important date in my life.
Speaker 3 (33:36):
And isn't it funny how time changes, not an important date. So February 11th is no longer an anniversary date for you to, uh, to think back on, but it's no longer an anniversary date that, you know, you, some anniversaries bring you grief and some bring you joy. Um, this, this started out as one that brought me deep grief, understand for all nine years, I have poured everything. I had sacrificed time with my children. And I know so many leaders in early childhood, this will resonate with them. Again is like that feeling polled. I need to decide between my own family and doing this job well. Right. And because we don't give our leaders enough tools, um, early on to be successful work, we're constantly in that juxtaposition. And so, you know, in my mind, they had promised me always that I would be able to buy the business.
Speaker 3 (34:36):
So that was always like I'm pouring in because someday this will be a future. And this is my dream. And it became very clear that wasn't what was going to happen. Um, and so on February 11th of 2011, I was fired for my present, from my position. And I like, I mean, we could talk hours about each decision during this time, but I immediately went to here's the blessing I had given a keynote a year and a half before I had stopped with one class left in my graduate program. Somebody in that keynote said, I want you to come teach for me finish that master's degree. I finished my master's degree in December. My mom wanted to see me cross the stage and my mom died in April. So like all of those things happened. And because of that, I had just agreed to begin teaching college courses part-time.
Speaker 3 (35:34):
And so there was help with my finances that had happened way before, like all of that was in place, but I didn't know it way before it happened. And so for me, my faith is a deep part of like why I believe these things happen, but all the time things are happening to us that we can interpret as insignificant important or negative. And I think that path that putting ourselves out there that trying, even though it might not be an immediate return on something, there's always, for me been a greater return when I give, without expecting something in return. And so, you know, I was, I was terminated on a Thursday and on Friday, Amy, who I mentioned had been my long-term employee. Like I hired her when she was 17. She's followed me in this journey. Um, she was six months pregnant and they told her, choose your loyalties. You can stay. But that, that I out. So she just came back.
Speaker 2 (36:40):
I just want to confirm the timeline on this. This is February, 2011. You said, is that right? Okay. The reason why that's noteworthy, I was looking before we started this podcast at some of our notes of working with you, and it's amazing, at least the first note that I see from the school that we're talking about, that you guys, I think move forward with was March 1st, 2011. So literally 10 years ago yesterday, uh, was the very, yeah, the very first note that I saw from Shauna who you've worked with for many years, uh, was March 1st, 2011. So that transition from, you know, being fired and let go to actually taking that and saying, and going back to your point from a few minutes ago, like I, I get to make a choice here. This is going to knock me down and is going to cause me to feel sorry for myself and to take a step back or I'm going to choose to lean into it and move forward. And it sounds like you did that really quickly.
Speaker 3 (37:42):
I didn't realize, okay. I'm having like an Oh wow moment. Because you know, when I tell you that we literally filed our LLC paperwork and signed a lease in June, June to February, you're like, okay, well, at least she'll thought about it for awhile, but now you're saying the first phone call I made was March 1st. Like, I don't think I thought about it for very long. I mean, well, what happened was ultimately they fired Amy. So she came back and said, you know, yes, I'd like to continue. And they're like, we changed our mind. So when you hurt me, you're right. I believe I'm just, I'm gonna go. Right. I'm gonna do, I started doing more consulting. I do a lot of coaching of owners and early childhood programs help them, you know, a training, things like that. I was like, I'll just pick up consulting gigs, um, and was able to do so quickly.
Speaker 3 (38:36):
But then they hurt someone I loved and I felt responsible. And this whole time I've always wanted like deep inside me was this face that said, like, I want something to call my own. I know that I can do it well, and I am deeply passionate about it. And, and so, you know, doing it for yourself, you know it, yeah. But I have four kids and maybe I should, you know, and so there's this self-talk do you, don't you, but now when you tell me I also have this person who's followed me and believed in me and stood beside me for 17 years. And because I now mind you, she was right along with me and standing in her truth to say, we can't do these things, or we're not willing to do, you know, um, so like our value system and our core of who we are is completely aligned, but we're completely different. And, uh, and I looked at her one day and I was like, we're going to start our own early childhood program. She goes, um, with what money I'm like, I don't even know, but look, the program that had closed that I went to right after my surgery to try to capture their kids was a building right down the street. And because she was now running my position and her building was open, I could go lease her building and I was going to set up shop right down the street.
Speaker 2 (39:59):
So talk to me about that negotiation, because I do want to talk a little bit about just the really practical side. So, so that you could maybe share some of your wisdom and experience about how you made that happen. So there's an empty building. It's not free. Whoever owns the building, wants to make some money on a lease or selling it. Can you talk specifically about, do you remember that conversation with the owner and how you were able to negotiate with no money, an opportunity to open your own school?
Speaker 3 (40:31):
So, and as a female, uh, and this is, this is a reality of my own personal experiences often. Um, we're seen as sweetie, honey, and you love children in that. So lovely. Um, but I don't apologize for being a shrewd business woman who is respectful and ethical. And so, you know, I walked in to the conversation with confidence and I just said, first of all, I'm a note taker. So like, I know who the person that licensing is. If I get a phone call to a person who handles the paperwork, you better bet I write her name and number down. So I know I'm going to need to use that for future reference. I make sure I educate myself on things. So I know them well, right. So this idea of, of launching a new program, I've done it now, either consulting or for other people half a dozen times, I think at this point, but never for myself at least half a dozen.
Speaker 3 (41:29):
And so I know the ins and outs of launching, but you're right. I literally have no money and my business partner has no job. And so they're living on her husband's income and by the way, she's about to have a baby. So I'm like, you know what, if it's meant to be, we'll figure it out. But first we have to figure out if it's an option. So we just keep proceeding as if it's going to happen. Um, ultimately, um, as we started figuring out what we needed to do, we were like, how inexpensively can we do this? Right. So, you know, pretty much, I mean, we've been handling budgets for multimillion dollar budgets, and this is a little budget for years and, and I've launched programs for other people. So I know what it takes to make a break, even analysis. I know how many kids it'll mean that enough money comes in for the amount of money going out.
Speaker 3 (42:19):
Right. I've, I've educated myself on that or been educated on it. And so we take all those things and I just, I went to the landlord and I said, you have an empty building. And I asked for more than what I thought I could get, right? So, I mean, just good business sense. You have an empty building, you're getting $0 and 0 cents. Um, you know, and so I, I negotiated for a six month, no rent. So I said, I'm not going to be able to build revenue. So part of it is people having confidence in you willing to tell your story and say like, this is why I'm capable. You know, you might see somebody who, you know, is a single parent, unemployed had no money, or you can see somebody who is competent and competent. And I know my stuff, I know my stuff. I can tell you what it's going to take. Here's what I'm doing to do it. I know how to do it. Um, but in order to make it happen, I need this.
Speaker 2 (43:17):
So, so you had to understand, so you walk in understanding, here's what I can bring to the table. I understand the person who owns this building is sitting here, paying taxes with no rent coming in and understanding their position. You made a case to say, look, it's going to need a little bit of a runway to get ramped up. But based on my track record, I think I'm a worthy risk. And once we get ramped up, you're going to have a long-term tenant and the equation's going to work out really well for you. And, and there's not a lot of other people that are going to come in and try to open a school. So you've got a small group of people that you could literally use this building for. And I'm at the top of that list. I can come in and make this happen. And that landlord, or whoever owned the building at the time, looked at the opportunity and said, it makes sense. Let's do it.
Speaker 3 (44:06):
I said, okay. So we got six months. It took, um, and we knew the quicker we started having money come in, the better off we were going to be. Right? Cause that would be cushion of not paying rent and only having other overhead. And so, I mean, you know, we got our equipment from garage sales. We only bought the equipment we needed for the number of students we had. So sometimes people go big when they're trying to open a center and they figure out all these things that they have to have. And so there are two discerning decisions you make when you're opening a program, one is what, what you need and what you want so need and want happen in two different ways. You discern what things are worth spending quality money on. I'll be honest. Like, and you're not asking me to say this, but I've used ProCare since 2003 ProCare was one of the things we were like, huh, we're going to have to spend the money, but we've been using it for 10 years.
Speaker 3 (45:08):
We knew it did everything we needed it to do. That was a place we'd spend the money. I believed in the biometrics. I wanted good security system. I wanted the things, things to integrate to themselves. So I'm like, yep, that's the place we have to spend money, but we can buy equipment used because it doesn't diminish its value. Right? So you have to discern what things you desire and what things you have to have. Um, you know, hand book keeping, wasn't going to be a thing, right. And knowing where your money is coming and going quickly to be able to print a report and say, this much money has gone out. This much money has come in. This how far we are from being breakeven. That matters. Um, so we were discerning and when we figured out how much we didn't need to just skate by, um, Amy's parents took out a home equity loan. And my mom, my dad gave me a portion of my mom's, um, life insurance. And we started it on, when I say a shoe string budget. I mean, literally nothing.
Speaker 2 (46:13):
It was a risk, but a lot of determination, a lot of grit, a lot of doors opening people, supporting you in it. And I think I've heard your story not to, not to spoiler alert, but, uh, I know you guys were able to return all the money to your investors. And, and obviously after six months, the school was taken off and, and, and fast forwarding, I want to be respectful. So my, my production team set aside an hour for us. So I'm going to use the full hour rounded, but they, they may, uh, get mad if we, if we take too much of your time too, but fast forward to 2021 current state, uh, heartfelt impressions. That's the name? You have a, how many schools, how are things? Three schools? I know the past year has been an interesting year that nobody planned for, uh, how, what is your outlook today? Maybe it's kind of an ending to tie this podcast up a little bit, and there might need to be a session to where we can, uh, double-click on a few of these items, but can you talk for our audience a little bit about your personal outlook on the industry as we look forward and anything that you would share with maybe young childcare providers, young entrepreneurs, the space, if you could encourage them in any way about their path forward,
Speaker 3 (47:33):
I will. I should tell there's one thing that you should know about the story. So the middle, do you, are you saving it for the end?
Speaker 2 (47:44):
No. You share anything you want to share. This is all about you though.
Speaker 3 (47:47):
I think so. That's the struggle of 2011. And of course we chose to expand, which is a, it's a funny story, how it happens, but when we don't have the full time for, but just before I did that keynote that you listened to about, um, kind of this journey that I've been on, right? The last eight, nine now 10 years. Um, just before that, you know, like literally when I got asked to do it, it was on my bucket list, state eight UIC, 3000 people. I'm so excited. And I'm like, I know what I'm going to talk about. My keynote is going to be stand in your truth. And I'm like, Oh my God, did I just say that I'm about to stand up in front of 3000 people and tell them I got fired. People who respect. I'm like, Aw. And I mean, my close friends know my story, right?
Speaker 3 (48:34):
I mean, people in my early childhood circle know my story, but I was like, Oh man, literally two hours before I got on stage, I got a phone call from the people who, one of the owners, not the one who actually fired me, but one of the three owners saying, I want you to buy our business. We can't make it work anymore. Firing you was the worst thing we ever did. And so for your speech, two hours before I'm bought to get on stage and tell this story, and I can't tell that part yet, right. Because of non-disclosures and all that good stuff. And like, there's obviously more to that part of the story. But on November, first of 2019, I signed the documents to buy the company that fired me,
Speaker 2 (49:30):
Literally a full circle story. That was the same company that you carried around blueprints for the building and interview people in the, in the local library. Cause there was no space yet. So you, you, you purchased your original school where you negotiate the lease for six months without a payment. You now own as of 2019, the original school that you helped start. That's number two. And did I hear, do I understand correctly that there's a third school as well, somewhere in between there?
Speaker 3 (50:00):
Yep. Yep. We did. To start from scratch, right? Buy a building or a former building, not buy a building. One is leased, one building we own. And then the third one was an acquisition and then obviously buying the business. We used to run when it was an acquisition. So yeah, that was November of 2019. And then we, we they're down the street from each other. So then in December, we all of our operations from our first location, because this building is licensed for a 400 students. So we went from a very small to big, so we combined from four back to three in January. And then of course, mid February,
Speaker 2 (50:44):
Did something happen last February? I'm trying to remember if there's anything that happened
Speaker 3 (50:48):
In February mid-March mid-March yeah, mid-March right. Everything's going along. It's going amazing. We're like we literally did. Oh, by the way, I negotiated for the owner to also do a, all new flooring and paint the building and all these things that needed to be done to the building. Um, and so those were just finishing in February and then of course in March we went on lockdown in Michigan, like mid-March so we're like, all right.
Speaker 2 (51:19):
Interesting story. Yeah. And then that whole year of lockdown reopen new regulations, new restrictions, I'm sure. Over the past year there's been a lot. And I, I think there's going to be some amazing stories from individuals like yourself, all over the industry and the country coming out of 2020, because it goes back to what you said earlier to Rhonda about, you know, during those difficult times they feel like a struggle and they feel like they're knocking you down. But when you look back at them, it was actually the very thing that built you up and allowed you to grow and move through that. Do you just, just for the sake of time, because I do think, you know, at some point you, it's been amazing to spend time talking with you. And I think this story and your experience is going to resonate with a lot of people just as maybe a final piece, 60 seconds or less like if you're standing in front of a room of, you know, thousands of early childhood, early childhood educators, entrepreneurs that are looking for some insight about, you know, moving forward, what would you say to them?
Speaker 2 (52:27):
What, what would be a, uh, a partying, uh, piece of advice or wisdom that you could share with others in the industry?
Speaker 3 (52:33):
So I'll tell you three things, and then I'm going to share with you something I wrote to myself on April 16th of this past year that I think is it bodys those things standing in your truth means staying true to who you are. Even when you're scared, beyond belief, it always works out. It just might not work out in your timeline. You've got to keep going every great leader story. You hear every great success story you've ever read about. Says like there were all these moments, right? All these moments when babe Ruth had more strikeouts than he had home runs and he would have stopped being known for the most strikeouts ever, except he kept getting up to bat. He kept getting up to bat. And I think the defining factor is that resiliency of all to keep getting up to bat until you have those successes and then surround yourself with the right people.
Speaker 3 (53:34):
If someone is toxic, if someone takes away, they're not going to change no matter how much you hope, you know, those core people, they've got to pull, put into you, not take away from you and then be smart. Like literally be smart, educate yourself, go out, take control. Don't wait for somebody to give it to you. Don't say so, no one ever told me that, go find it yourself. I spent the first month doing every single webinar I could about the PPP loan because I wasn't going to wait for chance. I was going to go take it. So this is what I wrote to myself on April 16th, because every day my business partner and I would say, do we close? What do we do? Like, should we stay open? We have not closed one single day of the pandemic. Now part of that is, is a blessing, right?
Speaker 3 (54:25):
That we didn't have a positive case early on, but we remained open. But just because on the other side of it with sounds like it wasn't scary and great things have happened because of it every day it was scary. And I just said, this is what I said to myself. I'm done worrying period, worrying. Didn't get me this life that I love so much and it won't win it back. Nine years ago, I had nothing. Well, nothing but four incredible kids. I love more than air a man who loved me with abandoned a ride ride or die business partner and a huge tribe of family and friends that believed in me, I've got too much skin in this game to even consider throwing in the towel and not a single person who knows me would describe me as the kind of person who gives up. So yeah, I'm that something outside of my control attack the strength of my business, but my gloves are off. I've caught my breath. Look out world. I'm coming back with a vengeance.
Speaker 2 (55:26):
Can't think of a better way to end this session than just let that sink in and all I'll end by saying this. Rhonda it's Shauna told me it would be a lot of fun talking with you. I got a chance to, to research a little bit about your story, but, uh, it certainly, hasn't disappointed. It's been a pleasure. And I know that this is going to be, um, you know, a session that resonates with a lot of people. And that's our hope with these podcasts with these interviews is that we can share some of the amazing stories and expertise from individuals like yourself, with others out there who need to hear it. So, um, great job. And thank you so much
Speaker 3 (56:06):
Honored to be here, honored to serve. Thank you for including me
Speaker 1 (56:11):
Course. Thank you for listening to this episode of the childcare business podcast, to get more insights on ways to succeed in your childcare business, make sure to hit subscribe in your podcast. So you never miss an episode. And if you want even more childcare business tips, tricks and strategies, head over to our resource [email protected] until next time
Speaker 5 (56:39):