New child care site ‘an American dream come true’

Norma Estrada, left, and daughter Erika Estrada celebrate Thursday after cutting a ribbon to open their third child care facility on Montgomery and San Pedro. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

If anyone a decade ago had asked then-22-year-old Erika Estrada if she was interested in opening her own child care business, they probably would have been met by a tongue click and an eye roll, Erika says.

But today Erika is 32, the mother of 4-year-old twins – and the proud co-owner of not one but three Albuquerque area day care centers. The formerly undocumented Erika – now legally able to work in the U.S. – said she can hardly believe what she’s been able to accomplish with her mother/business partner, Norma Estrada.

“You never think of being able to open your own business,” Erika said Thursday at the grand opening for Twins Learning Center’s third location, at 5555 Montgomery NE. ” … This is an American dream come true.”

It’s taken some elbow grease to get there.

Erika, a licensed practical nurse, said her mother ran a home-based day care for years. But it was when Erika’s twin daughters, Arianna and Victoria, came along that the duo started thinking about a larger vision. Erika and Norma participated in Crianza, a business accelerator program with Central New Mexico Community College’s Ingenuity program, which walked them through every step of what it would take to open a day care facility.

“Crianza really was the stepping stone,” Erika said.

The inaugural Twins Learning Center location opened for business in 2018 near 4th and Bridge in Barelas, offering bilingual child care services for up to 50 children. In late 2019, the Estradas opened their West Side location, on Central near 57th, which can care for up to 100 children.

When the pandemic hit, the Estradas closed down for a month. Their staff members, Erika said, were scared. But by mid-April, Erika knew they had to open back up. Many of their children’s parents, especially on the West Side, were essential workers – firefighters, police, grocery workers.

“You can’t just stop,” Erika said. “… When we opened it (back up), they were like, ‘Thank God,’ because they needed it.”

The pandemic is still very much with them. The third location, which can handle between 150 and 180 children, took months to open because necessary inspections weren’t happening – and in fact is located in a unit formerly occupied by another day care that closed down during the pandemic, Erika said. The Estradas are adapting, requiring all staff to be vaccinated. Children aged 3 and up have to wear masks, and staff clean and sanitize the play areas and toys throughout the day.

Ernie C’deBaca, president and CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, said at Thursday’s event that the Estradas’ ability to expand child care services during the pandemic is a big deal.

“What that really means is it’ll help people to go back to work,” he said.

About 22 people work at the centers now – including Erika and Norma – and the company is still hiring to get up to full staff at the Montgomery location, which is enrolling children age 6 weeks to 12 years.

Twins Learning Center co-owners Norma Estrada, left, and her daughter, Erika Estrada, are expanding their child care business by opening a new facility at 5555 Montgomery NE. At right are Erika’s 4-year-old twins, Victoria and Arianna Bustillos Estrada.

The Estradas are hopeful about the coming months – especially considering the expanded child care benefits being pumped out from both the state and federal governments. Erika said she thinks it will help increase business, especially from other working parents who perhaps struggled before to pay for child care.

“Just because you’re a nurse doesn’t mean you’re not living paycheck-to-paycheck,” she said.

Even now, Erika said, she and her mother are thinking about a fourth site – no location in mind just yet. She said there’s been help from several other organizations along the way – including Partnership for Community Action, the Small Business Development Center, the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce – as well as from other family members. She said she hopes others are inspired to go for their entrepreneurial dreams.

“It’s possible,” she said. “You can do it. It’s just a lot of work.”

Gabrielle Porter is the Journal’s business editor. Send tips and story ideas to gporter@abqjournal.com.

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