Child care providers: We like the $25K grant, love the free business coaching

Let’s Grow Outside serves about 100 families, some at its outdoor-based program at Joppa Farm and Forest School in Bedford. (Courtesy photograph)

Let’s Grow Outside serves about 100 families, some at its outdoor-based program at Joppa Farm and Forest School in Bedford. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photographs

The Children’s Center of the Upper Valley in Lebanon is working on marketing with Child Care Accelerate, a new state-funded business coaching program. (Courtesy photograph))

The Children’s Center of the Upper Valley in Lebanon is working on marketing with Child Care Accelerate, a new state-funded business coaching program. (Courtesy photograph))

By ANNMARIE TIMMINS

New Hampshire Bulletin

Published: 05-25-2024 4:01 PM

Modified: 05-27-2024 4:14 PM


Ellen Grudzien is the founder, executive director, accountant, and landscaper for Let’s Grow Outside, a preschool program with classrooms in Amherst and an outdoor-based program in Bedford. In that, Grudzien is not unique among child care providers across the state. Some also teach.

“I do everything … and have for a long time,” said Grudzien, whose center serves about 100 families. “But I realized, especially as we grow, that I cannot maintain that.”

So, Grudzien was among the nearly 50 child care providers who signed up immediately for Child Care Accelerate, a free program that includes eight weeks of business coaching and a $25,000 grant for business expenses. Like other providers, Grudzien said the money was welcomed but the coaching was life-changing.

“I think every day in child care is different so it’s very hard to plan as administrators because we are pulled in many directions,” she said. “If I worked on business and financing, I would be doing it on weekends.”

Among the most helpful advice from her coach was this: “You need to work less in your business and more on your business.” 

With the mid-July application deadline approaching, providers are encouraging more of their colleagues to apply for Child Care Accelerate, which is open to licensed and license-exempt child care providers and Head Start/Early Head Start center-based programs. 

“It takes pressure off your plate and also makes you more prepared for your business,” said Dawn Curtis, who with her sister owns and runs Colorful Apples Learning Center in Manchester and Hooksett. They serve about 80 children. “If people don’t sign up, it’s really a waste.” 

New Hampshire child care providers and the families who rely on them have received nearly $160 million in state and federal assistance since the start of the pandemic. With that money, the state made more families eligible for tuition assistance and gave child care centers money for staff training and bonuses, compensation for lost tuition, and facility upgrades.

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Much of that is one-time funding that ends in September. The $5 million Child Care Accelerate program is intended to help providers maintain and grow their programs going forward. 

“We know there’s more than $5 million worth of need,” said Adrienne Haynes, the program’s lead business coach. She said the eight-week program matches providers with experts in several areas, such as legal and tax issues, insurance, marketing, and budgeting with a single goal: “Make sure the business quality is as high as the quality of their child care.”

Providers complete an assessment of their business that helps coaches identify their greatest business needs. A coach visits the facility and together sets short- and long-term goals with the provider. 

The pair meet virtually each week for about a half-hour to discuss what’s going well, what needs work, and where to go next. The program also offers regular training sessions on issues that have included hiring challenges and strategic planning.

Jennifer Hosmer, executive director of the Children’s Center of the Upper Valley, wanted to better understand how to market her center and the financial aspects of running a business, topics not covered in her child care training. “A lot of times, you have to pick up that learning piece on your own and hope and pray you are doing it right,” she said.

Hosmer realized she may be the only one in the organization who knows who she uses for legal advice or where critical documents are stored. She’s writing a business manual so staff can keep the business going when she retires or if something happens to her.

While the center is licensed for 95 students, it is taking only 70 to 80 now because it has too few teachers. Hosmer put much of her $25,000 grant into marketing. 

Her center is known in the Upper Valley for its big pirate ship in the playground. The floors have rotted to the point where kids can no longer play on it, however. She’s using $21,000 to replace the pirate ship.

Curtis, whose jobs at Colorful Apples Learning Center also included teaching, said she would not have forced herself to find time each week for business planning if not for her scheduled coaching sessions. Curtis worked with her coach on succession planning, something she hadn’t done because there is always something more pressing.

“This is not just about the funding. This was a value add,” Curtis said. “Would I have done it without the ($25,000) grant? Absolutely.” 

But the money has been helpful. Curtis is using it to replace a fence and renovate a room to expand and take on more younger kids, something parents have asked for. “I’m trying to meet the … needs in my community,” she said. 

Grudzien used her coaching sessions to identify goals for growing and sustaining her business, something she wanted to do before her daughter joins her in the fall. She especially appreciated that coaches visit the centers to understand what a provider’s specific needs and goals are.

Grudzien is using her money for legal advice on succession planning, a laptop for an operations manager she recently hired, and to spruce up her space, which she leases from a church. There was no money in her budget for painting, carpeting, or a new oven, all things that help sell a place to families. 

“My coach (gave me) homework, but said, ‘I don’t want you to be working at home,’ ” Grudzien said. “It never felt taxing. It motivated me to take some extra time to focus on the things I needed to focus on to make sure this is financially sound and is going to last for years to come.”