When Shemik Sellars was younger, she dreamt about starting her own “Babysitters Club” modeled after the popular book series. At the age of 17, she launched her career starting as a nanny for a family friend. From there, Sellars studied child psychology and by her mid-20s, moved back near Richmond, Virginia to work as a lead teacher at a licensed child care facility. Recurring high praise and requests from parents to babysit outside of work prompted Sellars to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming Kristy Thomas, the main character of the book series.
“Based on what I saw from the center, I knew some kids’ needs weren’t being addressed because of inadequate staffing issues,” said Sellars. “Furthermore, not all of the school districts in the Richmond area offer preschool. I wanted to fill that gap for parents by blending a preschool framework into a quality, affordable in-home daycare facility to provide children with a more personal setting.”
Legacy House Preschool maintains an important presence for working parents in the Richmond community and beyond where child care exists in a fraught state. In May 2021, at least 10% of Virginia’s 6,047 licensed child care facilities were closed, and across the state, 47% of Virginians live in a “childcare desert,” which is defined as “any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child care providers or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots”. More recent Virginia Department of Social Services data indicates approximately 4,040 licensed child care facilities remain in the state database.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sellars closed on “the perfect home” to launch her childcare business south of Richmond in Chesterfield County. Since then, Legacy House Preschool has remained at capacity for 12 children, the maximum allowed by her license.
“Childcare came naturally to me, but business did not,” explained Sellars, who enrolled in Capital One’s Grow@1717 Accelerator, a 12-week program that gives training to small business owners on business practices.
Sellars was one of seven child care providers that Capital One’s Grow@1717 accelerator program honored in mid-November at its culminating event. Over the course of the program, the child care providers learned to build skills to help stabilize and grow their business. Each business owner received a $5,000 grant, a business needs assessment, 12 tailored business workshops and mentorship from Capital One associates.
“Grow@1717 helped me do a deep dive into my current business practices. It helped me gain the tools to strengthen those weaknesses,” said Sellars.
Among the Capital One culminating event participants included Janet Burke, Director of Child Development Services at ChildSavers, which is the only nonprofit in Virginia using a coordinated prevention and intervention model to address children’s mental health, prepare them for lifelong learning and help them recover from trauma. Burke was instrumental in reaching out to the thousand or so programs within ChildSavers’ footprint to help Capital One find participants for the Grow@1717 Accelerator.
“Though it’s not unique to Richmond, infant care for parents working nontraditional hours is one of the biggest gaps that these child care programs are helping to fill,” said Burke. “Many of these child care providers are running their businesses not because they’re out to make money, but because they love working with children. The 1717 program gives them a leg up with business practices to support their success.”
Capital One’s support of small businesses comes from the Impact Initiative, a multi-year commitment to support growth in underserved communities and advance socioeconomic mobility by closing gaps in equity and opportunity. Capital One recognizes that when small businesses do well, local economies succeed and communities are strengthened.
“We know that family day home care is the most common form of child care in this country, but oftentimes, home-based providers are the most overlooked for support as small business owners,” said Toria Edmonds-Howell, Community Engagement Manager for the Capital One 1717 Innovation Center. “The Grow @1717 program was designed to meet emerging needs within our region and as Richmond child care providers continue to experience the impacts of the pandemic, we want to help.”