Minority-owned businesses in Broward County now have access to a new pool of capital. The Capital Access Fund (CAF) is a lending initiative which provides capital and business education for minority entrepreneurs. It’s available through a partnership between Morgan Stanley, National Urban League Urban Empowerment Fund, National Development Council, and the Urban League of Broward County.
Lawanda Henderson used the funding to pursue a life-long dream of owning a child learning center. It’s helped her grow her business and plan for a new location.
Here is her story.
When she was a young girl, Lawanda Henderson had a favorite activity: babysitting other children.
At her church, she watched children as their parents participated in the services. At her home, she played with her younger relatives on weekends while their parents ran errands and worked extra shifts at work.
“If there was an opportunity to watch kids, I would do it,” she said. “I love kids. I’ve always enjoyed the role of a caregiver.”
Now, at age 45, Lawanda has made caregiving for children her career – and a fast-growing business.
A former school administrative assistant and track-and-field coach, she owns Taylor’s Tots Preschool, a child development center in a working-class neighborhood just outside of Fort Lauderdale.
She took over the center in 2017 from a previous owner and spent thousands of her own dollars to upgrade it: refurbishing the flooring, adding cabinets, updating playground equipment, installing a security system, and beautifying the rooms with fresh paint. She made the place truly her own, adding the right touches to improve the learning experience and encourage more families to bring their children there.
“Owning this center has been my life-long dream so I had to make it look just right,” she said.
Lawanda had wanted to run her own child learning center since the early 1990s, but couldn’t focus on it because she started having children and needed to provide for them through a steady job as a school office manager for Broward County Public Schools. As the years passed, she built up her administrative and business skills, learning to budget, run accounting systems, dealing with staff, and taking charge of big decisions. She liked the work, but still clung to her dream of operating her own child center.
Finally, last year, her opportunity arrived, when she found out the owner of Taylor’s Tots Preschool wanted to retire and sell the business. Lawanda began volunteering there and eventually, she purchased the center.
Everything was set, except for the extra financing needed to run the center, which has a staff of four and two substitutes. One morning, while visiting the Urban League of Broward County to learn about the entrepreneurship center’s workshops, she ran into an employee there who was a former student from her days at the school and found out about Capital Access Fund. She had several meetings with the Urban League staff, took classes, and before long was approved for a $54,000 loan.
“I was new at business and it would have been impossible to get that kind of money from a regular bank,” Lawanda said.
The loan enabled her to pay down her debts, make the renovations to the center, and begin thinking about bigger plans: opening another child development center in the area. She figured, her community has many working families in need of quality child care, so why not respond to the demand?
She is now looking for a location to house her new center with room for 80 children -- a place large enough to also operate a K-12 grade private school. In addition, she is determined to get a higher certification for her current center which would require raising educational standards.
“I’ll get there soon,” she said, standing in a colorful room next to the kitchen where more than 20 children were quietly eating a lunch of chicken nuggets and vegetables on a recent afternoon. The children had just finished coloring booklets and reviewing other books, and Lawanda was showing a visitor how thoughtful and well-behaved the children were.
“I love children and watching as they grow and develop and ask great questions,” she added. “It’s been my mission in life to give children in my community a great place to learn, be safe and get prepared for the world to come.”
Her favorite part of running Taylor’s Tots Preschool is when parents tell her that their young children come home from school and proudly use new words or phrases that they learned in school.
“It’s so rewarding to me when I know our work here is making a difference,” she said.
To learn more about the Urban League of Broward County’s CAF and other entrepreneur programs, click here.