A Safe Place Child Enrichment Center

Providing reliable, top-notch child care for low-income families in Raleigh, NC

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00:03 If energy, efforts, and dollars were pointed to the preschool age, that's when your, your brain is developing. And it needs so many things to be ok. And so it's better, um, to nurture that child, and be a part of their wholeness, than to try to fix that brokenness.

00:49 Well Kim, we're so excited to talk with you today. Can you tell us a little bit about your business?

00:54 Sure. Um, so A Safe Place Child Enrichment Center, we are a five-star, um, NACI accredited child care centers. We have two locations serving southeast Raleigh, in North Carolina. We think of it as one location with satellite classrooms. And also we are, in that same sense, one family.

We've been around for about 24 years. I started when my middle child, Abrham, who has sickle cell, one day I went to pick up my son and my only mandate to the child care center was to just make sure that he didn't get overheated and had access to water. And I pulled up one day and all the teachers was in the shade drinking a pop and my son was dehydrated and hot. And something broke. And I knew I could, one - come home and take care of my own child, and two - do it better than anything that I had been exposed to.

02:02 The best business stories come from a personal need that you wanted to do better than you could find somewhere else. And that's certainly true of your story, it's incredible. Do you know, in total, how many children you've cared for over the years?

02:18 Oh, that is...I wish I knew the answer. I don't. I could tell you it's probably very much in the thousands, the low end of a thousand, when I think about how many we graduate every year, and then the number of years we've been in business.

02:38 Are there any in particular that are memorable that you would talk about? 

02:45 Oh sure, so a family came to me of three and when she reached out she said 'My child's been going to the center for three months and every day she still cries. I really need to see if I can make a change and if there any help for this.' And I said 'Well give her to me, and I took her and she came to me, and I held her on my hip for two weeks. She went with me everywhere I went. And then one day she asked to get down. And she got down and I didn't have to pick her up in that fashion again. And there's a school of hard knocks that say 'Well let them cry it out, they'll be ok.' But you can love them, you can nurture them out of that.

03:29 You have such an important part of our community in the lives that you're changing for our children, every day. It's remarkable. And then there's the financial aspect of running a business. And the balance of the noble work you're doing and the financial responsibility that you have as a small business owner. So I'm curious how you define success in that balance.

03:51 When I say southeast Raleigh that means something here. It was the highest pocket of poverty. No franchise was willing to come to our zip code. And so it was inundated with a lot of family child care providers and people that were just taking spaces and doing the best that they could. And even though in the scheme of things we still are a small center, there's still a need for somebody to come into this community and try to do more than five children or eight children. And so that's one reason why we expanded. 

Another was a provider around the corner from me was going out of business and I knew she had the same dream that I had in the beginning, but because she could not stay in business she began to sell the rugs. They parents was bringing in milk and food for the children. And I remember picking up a baby and saying 'I'm gonna come back and get you.' And we were able to start out with a lease and then purchase that building. And that child stayed with me even till he was a school-ager.

05:01 What I want to say is this surrounding the child with intention and the fact that you are worth continuing to invest in. I just applaud you for, you know, leaning in on those situations where it would be far easier for you in terms of running the business and the classroom to ignore that or to try and move a student out of the classroom. But the fact that you're surrounding them with love and affirmation that they are worth continuing to invest in. I mean that, in and of itself, i'm sure is part of why you're seeing those behaviors shift.

05:33 I agree. We also have learned in this process, um, and even when I didn't have the words to express it, if a class was in chaos or having a hard time, the teacher was struggling to manage it, I would say 'Let's go outside.' And we found that going outside was a key to a lot of, um, things that were happening in smaller spaces. And I knew, I knew we had to figure out a way to make that outside the classroom. And so outside was such a liberating place we'd begin to flip that script and say 'Hey, this is the classroom. This is where we need to be. This is the safer space. This is the place that science is already built in, you don't have to put it in a cup, it's all around us.' And so everything that we do inside, we can do outside.

06:24 Kim, you are a pioneer to the outdoor classroom. Way ahead. 

06:29 Way ahead.

06:30 Now shifting there.

06:31 Well I'm curious about that because, I mean, the things that you're talking about are actually some of the latest pieces of research that we're finding out about. Kind of attachment based neuroscience what's so important for young kids. But you're like instinctively doing that with both the outdoor classroom as well as just surrounding the child. Were you just led this way or did you do tons of research when you started, what's your background? 

06:52 You know some things happen out of pain, some things happen out of struggle. You know, I struggled with obesity all of my life. Didn't want to pass that on to my own children, and definitely not my neighbors child. And so I knew how important it was to, at an early age, to get children moving. And I also knew how important it was to provide them with whole food. So about 15 years ago I made a decision not to open any more cans. That we would not be serving processed foods. And so I went to the farmer's market and I picked the fresh fruits personally every single week for our menu. Just created ways for children to move more. So really just trying to keep it simple, making those shifts to a healthier lifestyle.

07:48 That's fantastic, Kim. I mean you're creating healthy habits and lifestyles at such an early age that will last with them forever. So I'm curious if others want to get involved, how can other people get involved to help support you and your cause?

08:05 So we rely heavily on donations and voluntary efforts. We beat the doors in our community, ask for donations for our gardens. We do grow and have a production garden so we do grow part of the food that we serve our children. Our children and our families work in those gardens. We do whatever we have to do to make those ends meet. This is very meaningful work and I remind my staff that this is God's work. We've been mandated to take care of the little children. Somebody has to be their voice, somebody has to protect them. And so, I didn't get to choose, I was chosen. And I don't get to walk away. So, um, it's my work. I'm dedicated, and one day someone's going to say 'Well done, my child.' That's the greatest hope.