Melissa Wilson and Colby Heard both run child care centers in Virginia Beach, and both summarized their duties in one word:
“Everything,” Wilson said, laughing.
“That’s an easy question, everything,” Colby Heard chimed in, before laughing with Wilson.
Both said their jobs are now a little easier, thanks to what they learned in a training program for small businesses in early education. Heard, the director of King’s Kids Childcare Center near College Park Elementary School, and Wilson, co-director of KidzWorld Learning Center with her mom, Carol Landin, were among the 11 graduates of this year’s Early Education Small Business Training and Mentoring Program. They were recognized at a ceremony Thursday.
The program began six years ago and is funded and run through Virginia Beach’s Department of Economic Development. Lauren Small, a small business counselor who runs the program, said her goal is to “boost the business side of the house.”
Participants are not charged for the course. Areas of focus include marketing, human resources, accounting and website building. The program includes at least eight group classes and multiple one-on-one mentoring sessions with Small over the course of a year. The program is also sponsored by Virginia Beach’s GrowSmart initiative.
Small credited the graduates for their hard work and dedication upon completing the program.
“Early childhood business is probably one of the most demanding fields,” she said. “This industry doesn’t pay enough for the work we’re demanding.”
Heard has had to work a second job to keep his center afloat. He seconded her statements.
“It’s more than money, trust me, it’s more than money,” he said.
Small gave extra praise to Heard because he serves a community where many of his students come from lower income families.
“After coming to the class, and putting things in the right place and rearranging things, making adjustments, it’s been less stressful for me and more rest,” Heard said. “Because everything was on ‘1,000’ all day long, 12-14 hours a day. Now it’s probably like 10-12 hours a day.”
“You really have to love it, it really has to be your passion,” Wilson added.
Other graduates included Beth Comerford of Sandbridge Chapel Day School, and its pastor Clyde Deloach; Debra Kaplan of Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation, Susan Mathias and Jennifer Prodan from Rollingwood Academy, Mary Beth Russell of London Bridge Baptist Preschool and Kindergarten and Shelia Stratton of Le Bon Enfants. They join a group of 107 educators who have graduated since 2010.
Small said the ultimate goal of the program is to help its participants help the children they serve better. Members of this year’s class represented eight businesses that serve 771 children. Enrollment at those eight centers has increased a combined 23 percent since their owners and directors began the training program a year ago, Small said.
Wilson saw her enrollment jump 73 percent. She attributed some of that to her revamped website.
Heard said the training helped him stay in business. A graphic artist improved his signs and made them more lively.
“When they changed the signs, that alone just helped,” he said.
Heard and Wilson were grateful to be a part of a program that not only helped their business but also expanded their networks.
“Other people would probably look at it like we’re in competition against each other, but it’s not,” Heard said. “We’re doing the same thing. There’s so many children, there’s so many people out here, it’s enough to be successful, without, you know, stabbing at each other.”