Raising a business

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Until recently, Paulina Díaz-Ruiz and Nuvia Valenzuela struggled to care for their young children while holding down odd jobs at a restaurant and a cleaning company.

Now, they’re managing their own business, Learning Together Childcare Center, which provides before- and-after-school services at Kirtland Elementary for 45 children under contract with Albuquerque Public Schools. It’s the first of a chain of child care centers the women hope to open at other schools in the coming years.

It’s been a long, winding road for the two who, with a group of Southeast Albuquerque moms, have built an informal co-op that offers day care services for kids at Manzano Mesa Elementary into a formal business that employs five women.

Norma and Erika Estrada, who co-own Twins A&V Daycare Center in Barelas, hold Erika’s daughters, Arianna Bustillos-Estrada, left, and Victoria Bustillos-Estrada. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Díaz-Ruiz and Valenzuela own and operate Learning Together with Rosalia Hernandez. Two others will join as partners after graduating from Central New Mexico Community College with child development certificates, likely this spring. Many groups assisted the women in their efforts, including the ABC Community School Partnership, the University of New Mexico Law School and CNM.

The culminating boost, however, came from CNM Ingenuity’s new business accelerator program, Crianza, which helped Learning Together make the leap from a great idea into an operating business.

“We had no idea how to start a business,” Valenzuela said. “Crianza guided us through everything – all the state requirements to set it up, how to manage a budget, how to administer day-to-day operations. Without Crianza, it would have been very difficult.”

Crianza, Spanish for “upbringing,” started in summer 2016. It’s graduated 79 women from its eight-week program, most of them Spanish speakers from the South Valley who either already operated home day care services and wanted to build them into successful operations, or who never ran a day care and wanted to start one, said Catron Allred, CNM director of educational programs.

Teacher Claudia Martinez, left, and Learning Together Childcare Center co-owner Paulina Díaz-Ruiz work with, from left, Navilee Plaza, Alexis Vega, Thalia Dubois and I’Raeah Macklin. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The accelerator’s current and future achievements, however, could be affected by legislative initiatives to overhaul the state’s early childhood programs. One, Senate Bill 298, would move all prekindergarten services for 4-year-olds out of private care and into public schools, eliminating a major source of income for private providers like the ones emerging from Crianza.

The program is really about workforce development, especially for women in underserved communities, Allred said.

“It provides opportunities for families to work while creating a strong foundation for children in early childhood development,” she said.

UNM Law School professor Serge Martinez, who helped Learning Together register its business with the state, said New Mexico’s private day care industry is empowering women, because they’re predominantly the ones operating those businesses.

“They’re not working for others,” Martinez said. “They’re taking control of their own efforts and work and pushing back on patriarchal business models.”

Twin A&V Daycare Center Director Lidia Jaquez, left, and co-owner Norma Estrada read to youngsters at the center’s facility in Barelas.

The accelerator grew out of a Kellogg Foundation-funded survey of Spanish-speaking home providers for preschool children in the South Valley.

“We found there was nothing to support the business side of early childhood services,” Allred said. “There are a lot of predominantly women opening home businesses and eventually day care centers, and they lack the business skills and often end up closing because of it.”

To address that, the college turned to CNM Ingenuity, which manages the college’s commercial endeavors. It runs the STEMulus Center Downtown, which includes the Ignite Community Accelerator for Main Street-type businesses.

“We decided to create an early childhood accelerator program, and we received a Daniels Fund grant to develop it,” Allred said.

Teacher Norma Nimer, third from left, plays with students, from left, Neyra Hidalgo, Kassandra Grajales and Angelica Castrejon at the Learning Together Childcare Center at Kirtland Elementary.

They built a bilingual curriculum with supporting materials in Spanish and English, including a manual to guide Crianza participants in building their businesses. Five cohorts have graduated since 2016, most in Spanish, reflecting overwhelming demand, said Mercy Alarid, a CNM adjunct faculty member who teaches the Crianza curriculum.

“We have a long waiting list of students who want to take the (accelerator) course, and they’re all Spanish speakers,” Alarid said.

Crianza informs participants about all requirements for a day care business, starting with the basic education to earn a child development certificate. Mentors help them acquire needed knowledge and skills through CNM early childhood courses. That includes women starting from scratch who offer informal child care for family, friends and neighbors.

“We’re trying to make those informal services a thing of the past,” Alarid said. “We want everyone, whether it’s grandma or a business person, to meet state standards for all kids.”

Basic goals include getting day care services registered with the Children, Youth and Families Department, which ensures standards are met and allows providers to receive subsidies for children in their care. The bigger goal is to move services from “registered” to “licensed,” which requires higher standards but allows providers to care for more children and receive higher subsidies.

Twin A&V Daycare Center Director Lidia Jaquez, left, and co-owner Norma Estrada read to children at the Twin A&V’s new facility in Barelas. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Crianza encourages licensed providers to continue improving their businesses through CYFD’s Focus Program, which uses a five-star rating system for providers to increase the number of children they serve and the level of subsidies they receive.

Last fall, the Small Business Development Center at CNM began partnering with Crianza to offer free individual mentoring services in Spanish to Crianza participants during and after the program. The development center tripled its Spanish-speaking staff from one to three to work with Crianza, and to increase Spanish-language services in general for South Valley entrepreneurs, said center business councilor Liliana Reyes.

“We’re now working individually with 10 of the 17 graduates from Crianza’s fall cohort to help them continue building and growing their businesses,” Reyes said.

Learning Together Childcare Center co-owner Rosalia Hernandez plays with Angelica Castrejon. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The center helped Crianza graduate Andrea Maldonado obtain a $150,000 loan to buy and remodel a commercial space in Southeast Albuquerque. Maldonado previously ran a home day care with 12 children, but the new business will allow her to care for 20 or 30, she said.

Crianza graduates Norma and Erika Estrada opened A&V Daycare Center in December at a 3,000-square-foot space they rented in Barelas.

Norma operated an informal home day care for years. She registered it three years ago and licensed it last year. But it can serve only up to 12 children, so Norma and daughter Erika participated in Crianza to gain the knowledge and assistance needed to open a full center, where they plan to care for up to 50 children in morning and afternoon shifts.

“Crianza helped me turn a dream into reality,” Norma said. “They encouraged us and showed us how to do it step-by-step.”

Legislation threatens providers

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