From home to heart: E.L.F. grows up

Exploring Learning & Fun employs 3 full-time and 3 part-time employees. Their facility has space for 48 children.

Any mother who has had to leave her children to return to work can identify with the struggle to find good childcare. For Mary Gray, the saying “If you want something done right you have to do it yourself,” holds a special meaning. With one infant and a young child, Mary opened her own daycare business 12 years ago — from her home — to do just that.

“As a mother, it was very important that my daycare offer everything that I wanted for my own children. I wanted to know that the teachers would love my children, that they wanted to be there, and that the space would be warm and inviting,” Mary explains.

As the years passed, interest and attendance steadily increased, and it became clear that a change was needed. In August 2017, Exploring Learning & Fun (E.L.F.) child enrichment center opened the doors of a new facility. With a capacity for 48 children, Mary’s dream came true.

“The logistics here are very different, but we are able to be a bigger part of the community in this new space. We are able to do so much more for the children here, and that’s what everything is centered on,” Mary adds.

Still, the decision to transition from her home to a brand-new center was a major one. Mary found an ally in her Mason SBDC Senior Business Counselor, Bernard Ferret, who helped her navigate the difficult process.

“Bernard really sat down with me and talked about numbers. Prior to connecting with the SBDC, I think I must have heard about 30 no’s. I felt like I had hit this brick wall. But Bernard found this financing program that worked specifically with childcare providers,” Mary says.

Bernard helped Mary work to get her business plan and proposal completed, so the center could be funded and built. Despite having zero money left over for advertising, E.L.F. already has families on the waiting list until 2019.

Even with the brand new space, Mary still feels a strong connection to the home-based roots that grew E.L.F. for all those years. “Our care is very personalized. We are a part of their family, and we always want each child to feel that they are a part of our family when they are here,” Mary says.

Mary is grateful to Bernard and the Mason SBDC for seeing the potential of not only E.L.F. daycare but also for each of the lives that the daycare and preschool has touched over the years. “Someone was willing to believe in me,” says Mary, “And I’m so glad they did.”

Virginia SBDC