In the mid-80’s, educator Anita Collins was a single mother of three young children with her youngest not yet in school. After struggling to find a teaching position that allowed her to balance work and raising her kids, she decided to create an opportunity for herself and opened a part-time preschool in 1987.
Shortly after opening the doors, she was already envisioning expanding the physical footprint of the school and adding new programs. In 1991, she received a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to attend a business program at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) to develop a business plan for her intended growth. After completing the business program and plan, she obtained an SBA loan that allowed her and her husband, Steven, to build a 7,000 square foot building. The new building would now serve as a full-time preschool and child care center for infants to 12 years old. The building consisted of six classrooms, a small kitchen, and office space.
With the school growing so did the daily responsibilities of running and managing a business. Soon Anita found herself overwhelmed and struggling to keep up. Too often she found herself overlooking some of the basics of business, like paying monthly utility bills on time because her inbox was constantly overflowing. She knew she needed help and reached out to the Michigan SBDC in the early 90’s.
“As an educator you’re responsible for your classroom so I assumed that since it was my business, I had to do it all,” said Anita Collins, Early Childhood Specialist/Consultant at Growing Years Christian School and Child Care. “Just by asking me two simple questions, Jim helped me to realize that in order to grow the business efficiently and to make it sustainable I had to make changes.”
Jim (Rowley) is just one of a handful of business consultants Anita worked with over the years at the SBDC GLBR. Initially, he helped her to understand how and what to delegate. He also provided her with market research and industry standards that allowed her to perform a “health checkup” of the business. After reviewing the data, together they worked to develop a budget and set benchmarks for the business.The school continued to flourish and in 2000 she obtained funding to expand the building. The addition added 6,000 square feet of space, four classrooms, enlarged the kitchen area, increased office space, and built three playgrounds.
As the business grew so did her children who now had professions of their own. Her daughter, Lisa Workman, followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a teacher. Her eldest son, Matthew Hill, became an artist and writer. In 2007, she collaborated with Lisa to develop two proprietary curriculums –Growing Years Developmental Curriculum and Peddlesfoots Character Education Curriculum. As a supplement to the Peddlesfoots program, Matthew, wrote and illustrated a series of storybooks about a family of rabbits.
After more than 30 years working as an educator and business owner, Anita began to think about retirement and a succession plan for the school. Lisa took no time in raising her hand to serve as her mother’s successor and in the fall of 2018, she retired from teaching in the public sector and began working full time at Growing Years. To help them develop a transition plan, they once again utilized the services and resources of the SBDC. In addition, they received assistance from their SBDC business consultants in creating an operations manual that provides Lisa with a “toolbox for running the business” but also allows her to prepare for possibly licensing or franchising the business in the future.
“I’m beyond thankful for what I’ve learned and what I plan to learn from the SBDC,” shared Lisa Workman, Owner/Director of Growing Years Christian School and Child Care. “They’ve helped me to wrap my mind around being a business owner, guided us through the transition, and showed us how to manage the change in leadership style with the employees.”
In the spring of 2019, Lisa took over ownership of Growing Years, which now has 47 employees, an early childhood school for infants to Young Fives, and an
after-school program and full-time summer program for children up to 12 years old. Based in Saginaw, Growing Years is built on non-denominational Christian principles and values, the facilities and programs have been designed around a three-prong approach of home, school, and community. The school’s curriculum and lesson plans are based on children’s needs, learning styles, and appropriateness. To learn more about Growing Years, visit their website and Facebook, or call the school at (989) 792-8670.