A Dynamic Duo Builds A Village

A Passion For Babies

Joelle and her mother De’Orsie just love ba​​bies. “I was ten when I realized I wanted to be a teacher,” says Joelle, director of JoJo’s Playhouse, a home-based child care program in the SOMA district. “I love babies so much I wanted to volunteer at the hospital just to hold them,” she says. Since 90% of all brain development occurs before the age of five, the years we spend with nurturing caregivers are critical ones.

The mother-daughter duo opened up their program about five years ago and recently completed the Pipeline for Black Early Childhood Educator Career Development program at Children’s Council — graduating with straight As. Ninety percent of graduates reported an increase in child development knowledge as a result of the program.

Grandma De’Orsie’s passion to work with children started early, too: “When I was nine, I took care of my nieces and nephews. I loved taking them to the zoo and other activities. I love to teach children how to work in the world because you love them and they’re loving you back.”

Joelle knows first hand how important a trusted caregiver can be to families with young children. She was 22 and making her way through college when her eldest was born. “I found a really, really good daycare provider who was really an extension of my family. My son still talks about it to this day and he’s 12,” she says. “So that really opened up my eyes to be like, ‘Oh, this could be a really good business for me.’”

A little over five years ago, when Joelle asked her mother to join her in starting a child care program, De’Orsie jumped at the opportunity to make this her second act after retiring from an insurance company.

Together, they take care of four children, and maintain a long waitlist of families who are eager to enroll when a spot opens up. They see their program as being part of a village — a thriving community and that means going the extra mile.

“I had a parent that was about to give birth to a child whose family is in Israel,” says Joelle. “I told her just call me when you’re going into labor, and bring him over here. I’ll take care of him. I’ll watch him for a few days, however long you need.”

Freedom & Expansion

In addition to a passion for educating children, owning her own child care program means having more autonomy over family and career. “I love the freedom that I have for my children,’ Joelle says. “My daughter is two and she is here with us. I can work and know that she’s taken care of and learning well. I also can take the time to help out at my older child’s school.”

mother, daughter and granddaughter

Lately, they have their eyes set on a lofty goal: expansion. They want to open one of the first Black-owned day care centers in San Francisco and increase their enrollment to 20 kids. After that, they plan to expand across the Bay to open new centers.

Finding a new space and figuring out details like financing isn’t easy, but that’s where the Pipeline program comes in. The Pipeline program offered them both an opportunity to complete essential early childhood academic credits they needed to earn their Associate Teacher and Director permits.

These certifications make a difference in the minds of the families they work with and makes expansion more viable: “It makes the parents feel more at ease,” says Joelle. “We’re not babysitters. They see that we are actually educated in this– like it’s not a game. They understand we take this job seriously.”

Joelle and De’Orsie get a lot of positive feedback from the families as well as from the teachers who have their kids for preschool. Both attest that the kids are thriving in their care, meeting milestones and entering the school environment fully prepared.

Building a Legacy with Education, Mentorship & Peer Support

One unique benefit of this partnership between a nonprofit and a local college is that it combines education, ongoing mentorship and peer support to Black early child care providers like Joelle and De’Orsie to help them build their business and overcome barriers.

Recently, Joelle and her mother completed a business plan and are touring spaces to rent. Maiysha, one of their case managers at Children’s Council, is one of their go-tos. “We had to do a business proposal,” says Joelle. “She helped us to figure out who to speak to about that. She read over our business proposal. When we expand and need to go to banks, they will need to see our plan and what we want to do.”

Peer mentorship — as well as feeling understood —  are also big benefits of the Pipeline program. Their cohort meets monthly and communicates regularly by email and text. “It’s important for us as providers to have that community,” says Joelle. “We discuss trials and tribulations together. It’s a network, community, and a sisterhood.”

Feeling understood by teachers and classmates sometimes means seeing yourself in them.

“For me personally, I’ve maybe had a few teachers I could count on one hand, that looked like me,” says Joelle. “So, when you are in an environment where teachers don’t look like you, it just kind of feels like you don’t understand what I’m going through. You can’t relate to me.”

“I never had an Black teacher until I went to San Francisco State. There, I had two African American teachers and then not again until the Pipeline,” adds De’Orsie. “I never felt understood. I want children, especially African American children, to know that you can be anything and you can do anything.”

“If you’re really passionate about children, and you want to start a business, this is the way to go,” says Joelle. “I was just encouraging my cousin to do the Pipeline. Not only is it helpful for you to get your credits, but the community after the classes is what’s really important,” says Joelle.

“My roots are here and at I’m born and raised in San Francisco,” adds De’Orsie. “We’re building a foundation for the future for these children so they can go on and be great citizens. And they can then leave a legacy to help other people.”

Together, they know the dream of owning their own center will happen. “We’re on a mission and we’re determined and we’re going to get our center,” says De’Orsie. “With the help of the Pipeline, I know it’s going to happen.”

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