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
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.