Addressing the urgent need for quality childcare: Lil Brilliant Mindz
Open Road — Week 1 by Team MACK
In a life before Ross, I worked for a workforce development agency, aimed at providing job coaching to low-income New Yorkers with barriers to employment. One heart-breaking issue I heard from (mostly) female clients over and over again was the difficulty of finding childcare. I saw women, aiming to pull themselves and their families out of poverty, struggle with attaining, or maintaining work because childcare fell through — yet again.
Despite being immersed in the world of workforce development, I was surprised at how little the issue came up in my circles and how few programs sought to innovate around this challenge. Flash forward years later, my Open Road team, Team MACK, partnered with Lil Brillant Mindz, an affordable childcare center in Detroit, and my heart was immediately filled.
The journey started at a pancake house.
First thing Monday morning, we sat with Angela Hayes, the founder of Lil Brilliant Mindz, and LaSainte Roberson, her business partner and curriculum lead. At breakfast, we dove into Angela’s story. Angela began her journey by running a childcare center out of her home. After several years, she pursued a brick and mortar location, their current location on Shoemaker Street in Detroit. A turning point for the organization was in 2015, when they were awarded a $30,000 matching grant from Motor City Match to add 15,000 square feet of space to the center.
Angela’s business is addressing an urgent need in Detroit. A Center for American Progress report published in 2017 called Detroit a “childcare desert”, or a city with limited childcare services. It notes that approximately, “59% of children younger than age 5 reside in neighborhoods with a scarcity of child-care providers.”
Angela and LaSainte later walked us through the space, through brightly colored rooms, introducing us to teachers and giving us an opportunity to say hello to the impossibly cute little ones.
It was there that we understood more of how the center aims to ensure childcare is affordable — by hosting Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms, state and federal programs which cover everything from childcare fees to health services to parent transportation support. Becoming an entity that is Head Start compliant is a complex and slow process. Despite the downsides, Angela and LaSainte acknowledge that this is a key way to ensure they can provide childcare that is both affordable and high quality.
What was even more inspiring: Angela aims to ensure not only that the center is known for its high-quality services for children, but also that parents see the center as a place where their needs can be met. She showed us rooms that have yet to be utilized since the expansion, “Mothers would come here and get access to WIC (Women, Infants & Children) benefits or a doula.”
After day one, we were fully bought in. Team MACK spent a week working with Angela, LaSainte, Open Road alumni, and other stakeholders to understand how best to find qualified teachers to staff Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms. At the end of the week, we were able to share tactics for addressing the pain point with LaSainte and Angela in a way that resonated with how they seek to grow in the next year.
While the opportunity to support LaSainte and Angela in tackling a business challenge was gratifying, it was the warmth of the relationship established over the week that truly lifted the team. LaSainte joked, “Do you guys have to leave?” With Angela chiming in, “Does it always feel this hard?” We echoed her sentiments, acknowledging the incredible manner in which they responded to our questions and showed us kindness.
In stark contrast to the hopelessness I felt in my early 20s around the dearth of affordable childcare, I left Detroit excited about the growth soon to happen in the space — thanks to places like Lil Brilliant Mindz, and visionaries like Angela.