In the business of helping others

Provider: An entrepreneur uses her success to help people facing the challenges she overcame.

March 05, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Every day when Yvonne Minge goes home, she knows she's helped somebody grow.

Maybe it was the 3-year-old boy who needed to learn how to wash his hands, or the 4-year-old girl who can now distinguish red from blue.

Or it could be the twenty-something staffer and mother who completed her coursework in early childhood education because Minge and her rapidly growing Bright Beginnings Children's Centers paid for the course and offered free child care while the mom went to school.

"One of my goals in life is to help people move forward in life and to make them feel special," said Minge, who in two years has opened three child care centers in Howard County that teach more than 170 children. "I try to make sure we provide a safe, nurturing, happy, clean environment, but you don't get that unless your staff is happy, too."

In an industry in which state and county officials say the pay for workers is low, the turnover rate is high and education is a must, Minge is working against the odds to develop a trained and satisfied staff to provide quality child care at her three locations that are nearly overflowing with energetic youths. But working against the odds is not unusual for Minge, a one-time single mother who worked her way through school and up the child care career ladder to find herself owning a chain of centers.

"It was never my life dream to work with kids, but I found it was my niche," Minge said.

Soon after taking a position as an assistant teacher in 1987 at a center that offered free care for her children, she decided that providing jobs and helping people would be her goals. That didn't become a reality, though, until April 1999, when she leased space from the Columbia Association and opened the first Bright Beginnings in Owen Brown, across the street from her home.

With 26 employees, Minge is providing jobs and free child care to mothers who are where she once was - untrained in a career path and bankrupt after paying a sitter. But Minge is going a step further. She is also paying for the education and books of her staff members, in hopes of developing a better-trained and more stable staff, and to encourage the young men and women to achieve.

According to the Howard County Child Care Resource Center, Minge is on the right track in dealing with some of the toughest problems in the child care industry - lack of training and high staff turnover.

"Any benefit would be a very effective tool. It's all helpful," said Debbie Yare, the center's program manager. "She's doing her darndest to keep employees and recruit employees."

Minge has seen her business blossom. Because the rent was reasonable and her roster was quickly filled at the Owen Brown location, the fledgling business turned a profit in just 18 weeks, she said.

A little more than a year later, in August 2000, Minge opened her second center, renting a building from Hopkins United Methodist Church in Highland. Profits from the Owen Brown center paid for the renovations to the building in Highland.

Then came the offer she couldn't refuse. The owner of a very large child care center in Oakland Mills, a woman for whom she had worked running the facility two years earlier, decided she had had enough of the child care business, with its slumping profits. The business went up for sale - a 6,190-square-foot building on an acre of land with an outdoor playground, a van, a staff of 15, and about half the clients needed to bring the facility to capacity.

In October 2000, two months after Minge opened her second location, she had a third - a palace of a building on Thunder Hill Road that was furnished, in use and large enough to hold more twice the number of children she had in the two other locations.

"I knew she would grow, but I didn't realize it would happen this quickly," said Mary Becker, executive director of the Jim Rouse Entrepreneurial Fund, which helped Minge obtain her first loan, for $25,000.

Becker said she was surprised at how quickly the company has expanded, but not at Minge's success. "You just knew she had the expertise to do it," Becker said. "She had the drive, the energy. You just got the sense she was going to make it."

There's no profit from Thunder Hill Road yet - repairs and new purchases have put a dent in the bottom line. But as Minge focuses on her next goal of getting her staff better trained and teacher certified, profit is on the horizon.

Minge said she has no plans to expand the business anytime soon, "unless something drops in my lap and it's just too good to refuse," but she hopes many of her staffers will take her education incentive.

Four employees have done so in her two years in business, some of them working on associate degrees at Howard Community College. Although the educational incentive is a cost for Minge, the more the better, she said.

"It's important to me because these are all ... barriers I faced years ago - having young children, wanting to continue my education, looking for financial aid, looking for day care," she said. "I understand the woes of being the low man on the totem pole."

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