Women Entrepreneurs Find New Opportunities

By Audrey Leon, Lauren B. Howard and Ambar Gilmore

Maribel Lopez Velazquez starts every day at 6 a.m. enthusiastically greeting busy parents and sleepy children from the top of her front porch at her Cicero home day care center.

Lopez Velazquez, 37, a single mother of four teenage children, lights up with joy whenever she talks about her students that range from infants to 12-years-old.

“Loving children is not the ingredient you need to open up your child care,” Lopez Velazquez said. “The ingredient you need is dedication, perseverance, you want to do something for yourself.”

Lopez Velazquez founded Bundle of Joy Group Child Care, 1626 S. 57th Ave., after attending the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) child care expo in 1998.

The center, at 8 S. Michigan Ave., provides assistance to those women who want to start a new business or those who already have.

Lopez Velazquez is one of 55,000 women that the center has helped in its 25 years in business. It has established 14 women’s assistance centers in six states including Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

In 1986, Hedy Ratner and Carol Dougal created the Women’s Business Development Center, a non-profit organization, to empower women by encouraging them to go into business for themselves.

“[The center] was really a critically interesting new way to economically empower women through business ownership,” said Ratner, co-president and founder of the center. “Because we felt that women needed to find their own way and their own power so they wouldn’t be dependent on others. Like white males.”

The Women’s Business Development Center holds an annual child care expo with workshops for Spanish- and English-speaking entrepreneurs looking to start their own day care business.

“I saw all these conferences coming up and all these workshops and I enrolled,” Lopez Velazquez said of the development center. “I took an active role to get more information.”

Ratner sees the expo as an important resource for those wanting to go into the child care field.

“The childcare expo was a way for us to bring together those who were thinking about going into the childcare business who were family providers of childcare or those who were establishing childcare centers or had childcare centers,” she said. “(We) provide them with information on trends; new resources they could use to be more successful.”

Maria Lopez, director of the Latina Business Program at the center for the last three years, points out that opening a daycare center is often overlooked.

“[The child care expo] is for the women who are already running a business and never really looked at it that way,” Maria Lopez said. “This was an opportunity for them to learn about the business aspect of taking care of children, teaching children, educating them.

“It came up because there was a need in the community, across communities,” she said.

With urging from her mother to start her own business, Lopez Velazquez began marketing her business idea to her community to drum up support.

“I started promoting in the neighborhood,” Lopez Velazquez said. “I started a child care waiting list. By the time I started my day care I had 25 kids enlist.”

Maribel Lopez Velazquez, owner of Bundle of Joy Day Care in Cicero, stands beside a decorated wall in her home day care center on May 29, 2010. (Photo by Audrey Leon).

The Women’s Business Development Center created the Latina business program in 2002 to supplement its original focus because of the growing Hispanic population in the Chicagoland area.

“The issues of economic dependence are even greater in the Hispanic community,” Ratner said. “We wanted a program that would do all of our counseling, financial assistance, and entrepreneurial training for the Hispanic community, but in Spanish, for Latinas and their families.”

Maria Lopez said that the center assists women by providing workshops and one-on-one counseling.

“We sit with them and talk about projections and get a budget together, she said. “Sometimes we’ll have situations where we’ll have to help to work on our client’s own personal finances so that they can build up to and obtain a loan eventually,” Maria Lopez said.

Lopez Velazquez turned to the WBDC when it was time to apply for a business loan to remodel her home to suit the needs of her growing business.

“[The center’s] business planners coached me; directed me; helped me out in those [financial] areas,” Lopez Velazquez said. “The Women’s Business Development Center helped us to be more professional, more witty when it comes to financials and to be more business woman-like.”

With an operating budget of $2.2 million and a full-time staff of 24 employees, the organization is able to fund workshops and informational sessions, however, it does charge a fee for its child care expo.

The center receives its funding from a variety of sources, Ratner said. This includes local, county, state and federal government as well as private donations. It also receives help from the Small Business Association.

Ratner says many corporations and foundations see the center’s childcare initiative as serving an important need in the community.

The McCormick Foundation is a major funder of the Women’s Business Development Center’s childcare initiative,” Ratner said. “They see this as critically important part to provide early childhood education into diverse communities around the city and county,” Ratner said.

Currently, Lopez Velazquez has 12 children enrolled in her home day care, which operates from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Lopez Velazquez holds a Bachelor’s degree from Governors State University in University Park, Illinois, and a Master’s Degree from University of Illinois-Chicago in Social Work.

The staff at Bundle of Joy, made up of one full-time and one-part time teacher, is required to have college course work in child care development.

Bundle of Joy’s facilities resemble a traditional elementary school classroom with handmade artwork hanging on the walls, and multiple learning and play centers for the children.

Iris Colon, teacher at Bundle of Joy Day Care in Cicero, helps a child point out an apple in her book. (Photo by Audrey Leon)

Lopez Velazquez continues to give back to the community by doing motivational speaking engagements and workshops.

“I was invited to an all-women conference to teach belly dancing,” Lopez Velazquez said. “I believe belly dancers dance with confidence and that’s what I want to boost in women.

“I believe if you give them the right tools, they will reach for the stars,” Lopez Velazquez said.

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