Business During COVID-19:
Bright Futures Learning Center
Jan 28, 2021
What is Bright Futures Learning Center?
Bright Futures Learning Center is the brainchild of Chelsey Steinlicht, a mom of four who saw the demand for high quality, education-based childcare in the Fargo/Moorhead area. Her and her husband opened the learning center in July of 2014, providing childcare for 75 children throughout the community. Today, they have two locations and provide a safe and nurturing learning environment for over 350 children and their families.
“The whole idea behind Bright Futures started after my husband and I graduated college and had our first child. We searched everywhere to find high quality, affordable childcare but saw a huge gap in the industry. It wasn’t until we had our third child and I had to decline job offers and stay home that I realized that I was being called to this crazy path called childcare.”
As a service-based business that relies heavily on customers bringing their children into their center, the COVID-19 pandemic presented many large challenges for Bright Futures. Balancing the social distancing and health/safety regulations with classroom capacity and staff ratio requirements became a high priority as they worked to keep as many staff and children in their facility as possible. One of their biggest challenges, however, was retaining and compensating staff who were putting in long hours and putting themselves at risk by coming in to work.
“We have an amazing team and staff, some of whom have been with us since our opening days, but it’s not easy to work in the industry in a time like this. It’s difficult to find high quality, knowledgeable teachers, so making sure that these teachers and staff are taken care of and compensated well, especially during this time, was my top priority. We want them to be safe and healthy and alleviate as much stress as possible, but the unknowns make it challenging to do so.”
Bright Future's Creative Solutions:
In order to combat for these challenges, Bright Futures was forced to get creative and accommodate their overall business model in a way that is safe and efficient. Some of their solutions included:
- Purchasing additional vehicles for transport of kids to and from seven Fargo/West Fargo schools
- Hiring additional staff to take temperatures of children and staff as well as cleaning and closing procedures
- Placing dividers or “sneeze guards” throughout the classrooms to divide up groups of children into small pods and accommodate for health regulations
- Providing weekly COVID-19 tests for staff from the ND Department of Health
- Checking in and being honest and transparent with staff about new changes and procedures
Since over 50% of their clientele took their children out of childcare during that time, Bright Futures also found a creative and impactful way to use those vacancies to help their community. The team started providing 24-hour children for foster care children needing emergency placement during this time. In addition, they opened up their 24-hour childcare to emergency personnel who were struggling to find care for their children due to the closure of many daycare facilities throughout the community.
“It sounds so simple – a child in a home – yet COVID-19 has opened our eyes to the dire amount of care and attention that is needed for these foster families that struggle to find those resources and support. In addition, our communities rely so heavily on the services of emergency personnel. We knew there were children that needed a safe environment throughout these times and that Bright Futures could help.”
Along with the staff, the clients and community of Bright Futures has been instrumental in the sustainability of the daycare throughout these challenging times. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Bright Futures had several parents elect to pay 50% of their tuition costs to save their spot and support the business even through their child was not in childcare at the time. There has also been several parents, families, and community members that have catered in lunch for their staff, provided gift cards for groceries, and even brought in masks and other PPE equipment when it was hard to find.
“I’ve been in the childcare industry for over 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like the appreciation and support that I’ve seen this year. The generosity of our clients and community members has really humbled me and reminds me that, at the end of the day, it’s all about keeping the children safe and letting them know that they are loved. It’s wonderful that the community sees and supports this in such generous ways.”
Advice for Other Small Business Owners:
Chelsey encouraged other business owners to focus on one thing during times like this: communication. By being transparent with her staff and customers, she has been able to create a supportive atmosphere and show others that, despite the challenges and unknowns, they are in this together.
“Being transparent establishes an environment that says, “I understand you’re not the one with all the answers, but I trust your leadership.” It is important to take their questions and concerns with a lot of seriousness and find solutions/answers when you can. Your staff are 100% the reason why you can make it through a challenging time like this so you have to support them as much as possible.