Q: I just read your column and I'm thrilled. I am a 35-year-old with 12 years experience in accounting. I have a B.S. degree in finance. I have wanted to open a daycare center in Carlisle, Penn. for years. I currently work in NYC and live in New Jersey but want to move back home to Pennsylvania, ever since Sept 11th. I realize I don't do anything to help people, and now I want out of the corporate rat race and want to help children and make a difference. How do I get started? How do I get grants or other means to start? I just don't know where to start. —Lisa, New Jersey
A: Start by learning all you can about how a day care center is run: Staffing, finances, regulations, etc. You may be able to research some of this online or in your local library, but your best source will be to find someone who runs a daycare and is willing to show you what's involved. Try a local church or non-profit center in your area.
If that doesn't work, borrow a friend's kid and visit as many daycare centers as you can find, asking as many nosy questions as you can think of. (Well-run daycare centers are very accustomed to answering lots of questions from nervous parents.)
Fill in as many answers as you can and then come up with more questions: How much does rent cost? What about insurance? Where do you find good providers? How much are they paid? What are the biggest safety issues and how do you handle emergencies? How much do centers charge? What state regulations must be met?
Then, when you've become an expert on running a daycare center, go find a place that needs one back in Carlisle: a church, local government, corporation, etc. (This step shouldn't be too hard -- this country is has a chronic shortage of good day care.) You'll be in a much better position to get funding if you can generate enthusiasm from an existing entity that needs your service.
If you decide to set up independently and go after your own grant (which presents a new round of research), start with the U.S. Small Business Administration's grants page. You should also try your state's Department of Public Welfare. They have a program called Child Care Resource Developers that apparently helps people like you find grants and set up shop. The Bi-County Day Care Administration covering Carlisle is in Williamsport. Give them a call at 570-327-6949 or 1-800-346-3020.
And don't be shy about broadcasting your plans to hometown friends, relatives, former schoolteachers, etc. You never know who might have a good lead. Or an idea for a great name for your daycare center.