Owner, Play to Learn Childcare
Owner, Play to Learn Childcare
With determination to help as many families as possible—and help from the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC)—Francheska Velazquez has grown Play to Learn Childcare from a home-based daycare serving six students in 2013, to a multi-site provider now serving more than 60 families with locations in Stamford, Bridgeport and Cheshire. Velazquez worked as an assistant teacher prior to launching her business. Initially, she said she leaned on WBDC for personal growth and empowerment: financial guidance on budgeting and personal money management.
“I took budgeting classes, learned how to purchase a home, how to manage my money, and how to save,” Velazquez said.
As demand in her industry grew, by 2017 she was ready for the next step. She opened her first child care center in Stamford. Again she turned to WBDC and the Small Business Administration—this time as a business owner with employees.
“I took classes and webinars on business finance, taking care of employees, P&L statements, and applying for grants,” she said. “I first started this because I loved working with kids, not because I knew the business part, but once you transition to a center, it's a business,” Velazquez said. “When you first open, you're not breaking even, you're taking money from your personal account. WBDC opened up more doors.”
With WBDC educational resources and mentorship, Velazquez said she learned how to evolve as a leader and make the crucial transition from a day-to-day employee to growing her organization as a whole. Learning to delegate, she said, was uncomfortable at first, but she focused on cultivating her team in the same way she had invested in herself.
“When I hire someone, I trust them,” she explained. “Let me emphasize that: I hire them because I trust them. I put lesson planning guides together to empower my teachers to create their own lessons for what their kids need: fine motor skills, gross motor skills, process art, etc. But when I'm hiring I hire on passion - teachers who love kids, who have patience. I can train staff to implement a lesson plan, but they have to love the work.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Velazquez decided to approach it as an opportunity.
“Had I never made the effort to invest in myself for the greater good of my business, I never would have applied for those grants,” she said. “For me, the pandemic was a reset button. I was able to reinvest and put new technology—including a parent communication app—in place. It’s a mindset shift. I’ve really learned the difference between working in my business and working on my business.”
The Stamford center now serves 60 children and employs 20 staff members. Velazquez most recently secured WBDC’s $25K Child Care Business expansion grant for a facility in Cheshire. All Play to Learn locations, she noted, accept Care 4 Kids, the state-funded family child care subsidy program.
“The demand for good child care is very great. There’s a definite need for more people to know about Care 4 Kids,” she said.
Velazquez said that her understanding of her own skills as well as her contributions to her community have grown alongside her business.
“When I first started, every day was different—seeing a kid learn the color blue—those things made me so excited! I felt I was doing something and making a difference. Now the most rewarding experience is that I give wraparound services. We’re not just giving the child services, there’s the mother, the grandmother, the uncle or other caregivers. I'm able to help everyone in the family.”
Velazquez says she understands families who need assistance and support because she’s walked in their shoes. A mom of four, she was working full-time when her daughters were young but still needed to utilize the Section 8 housing voucher program.
She said that although there can be stereotypes around the program, for her family it was a stepping stone.
“When I got off, I sent Section 8 a thank you card,” she said. “And now I'm at the point where I know that I have a voice and I know I can impact generations. To say: You could work hard and you could have your own business. I'm able to encourage people and give them hope.”