If At First You Don’t Succeed …

These enterprising women found their calling with children

Over the years, Linda A. Banks and Terri Michele tried many different business ventures, but it wasn’t until they agreed to start a childcare center that they discovered their true calling in life.
When Banks, 35, joined forces with her best friend, Michele, 34, to open the Banks Children’s Learning & Multi-Purpose Center, failure was not an option. Stepping out on faith, the two were able to turn an abandoned building into a thriving enterprise. Based in Pittsburgh, the Banks Children’s Learning Center combines childcare with an after-school program and summer camp for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years. “We build a curriculum around each child after carefully observing and assessing his/her needs,” Banks says.

Today, staffed with 12 employees, the center has 80 children, and the after-school program has 35 children. The atmosphere is enriched with music, language, computer lab, math, science, health, nutrition, and art. The center generated $303,000 in revenue in 2002. Banks and Michele project revenue for 2003 to increase to over $400,000. Tuition ranges between $110 and $150 per week depending upon the child’s age.

The two friends, who met at Kent State University, started the venture in 2000 with an initial $5,000 investment. This was used to purchase educational supplies such as tables, books, crayons, puzzles, and scissors. Money remained extremely tight during the first year, and the partners were forced to max out their personal credit cards to purchase other necessities such as file cabinets, crayons, paper towels, and telephones. All told, startup costs totaled $12,000.

Opening the learning center was a major sacrifice for the duo, who lived in the facility for about a year in order to keep personal expenses at a bare minimum. Conditions were cramped for the single women. Each night they had to push their desks aside just to open their sofa beds. “The transition from living on our own to living in a center was hard. We used to have a life outside of work,” recalls Banks. “Now, we had to prepare our meals, shower, sleep, and work in the center 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Meanwhile, the two actively marketed their center. Michele recalls that they walked around the neighborhood, door-to-door, to meet people. To further strengthen the center’s reputation and build clientele, the two also contacted school districts in the Pittsburgh area to inform them of their services. But perseverance paid off for the entrepreneurs; business has picked up through the power of word-of-mouth referrals from school principles, parents, and friends around the community.

Looking ahead, Banks and Michele have three children’s books and a CD soon to debut. The learning center has also copyrighted and published its own alma mater: “There Is No Limit To What I Can Do,” a song which defines the entrepreneurs’ vision for themselves and the children they teach.

Banks Children’s Learning & Multi-Purpose Center, 8053 Mt. Carmel Road, Verona, PA 15147; 412-247-3922; www .bankschildren.micronpcweb.com.

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