Childcare provider wants to expand business
BERLIN— After a chance encounter in the local Wal-Mart parking lot with state officials recruiting local entrepreneurs, a business owner could realize one of her dreams.
Sheneka Nichols, a 38-year-old mother of six, said she bought Stages Early Childhood Learning Center, Inc. two years ago after she and her husband, Clayton, faced an emergency need for childcare when a daycare center three of the Nichols’ children attended closed abruptly on April 1, 2011.
Nichols said she has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a master’s degree in early childhood education from Wilmington University and is a certified childcare provider. She has worked in the public school system for nearly ten years, she said.
She has lived in Berlin since her mom returned to the area with her when she was eight months old.
Nichols said her husband, a construction worker, has been very supportive of her venture ambitions, “but he sees me as a bit of a dreamer.”
When she bought the daycare center, it was being leased at another location. Nichols said the rental arrangement at that location “went sour,” and she moved operations to the Old Ocean City Boulevard site after one of the employees spotted a vacancy there.
She is leasing an 800-square-foot space there, but said for her company to be a sustaining and productive part of the Berlin community she needs to expand.
Nichols started with 12 children—three, her own—and has grown to serve 31 children full-time and part-time, including four of her own. She wanted to expand into the rest of the building, but said because of her earlier experience, she hesitated.
The need for more affordable infant care is the main reason Nichols wants expand, she said. Her business provides care for infants from six weeks to 24 months old, with a ratio of three children cared for by one childcare provider. For two-year-olds, that ratio is six children to one provider, and for three- to four-year-olds, it is ten to one.
The center also provides breakfast, lunch and two snack times, so she said she is constantly searching for nutritious groceries, which often takes her to the aisles of the local Food Lion and Wal-Mart.
It was during a shopping trip to Wal-Mart that Nichols spotted the logo on a bus loaded with officials about to take the statewide Start-Up Maryland tour to Ocean City for a recruitment session for individuals seeking to jump-start their businesses. Nichols inquired about what was going on, and was told that the tour was designed to help entrepreneurs launch new job-producing business ideas. She quickly told them about her company and business challenges.
The state officials were so impressed with Nichols’ presentation they invited her on the spot to ride the bus to the Division Street tour site and record her own bid during a session with previously chosen new business owners.
Worcester County Economic and Development Director Bill Badger lost no time touching base with Nichols. He has already conducted a site visit and advised her on who to contact and how to set up meetings with business resource managers who will hopefully help her navigate through the process.
So now Nichols has a different scramble to make. “A lot of things have moved in my favor,” she said, albeit in the initial phase.
Nevertheless, Nichols bubbles over with optimism. “The timing was impeccable,” she said. “If I can make it to the big dance and thrive, I will be completely happy.”
She said an expansion would allow her to provide 14-hour care to help parents who work in jobs with non-traditional hours. Her current business hours are from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday; and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays.For more information on the childcare services provided by Stages Early Childhood Learning Center at 10019 Old Ocean City Boulevard, call 410-726-4306. A website for the business is under construction and is expected to be operational by the end of the month.