The Heart of an Entrepreneur: Melissa Patterson
Melissa Patterson’s start as an entrepreneur came as a toddler on Granny’s knee. She has a newspaper clipping featuring herself at 18-months of age in the arms of the great-grandmother everyone called the “Granny of the Block” because she cared for all the neighborhood kids. The warm embrace of Granny and memories of the good care she received as a child inspired what became Patterson’s life work and turned her into a business owner whose reach steadily grows.
Patterson owns Patterson Family Childcare Center at 24th and Wisconsin. The preschool program currently serves 24 children ages 2 ½ to 5 and their families. Six staff members including a full-time certified teacher and a bi-lingual instructor carry out Patterson’s philosophy of the difference a quality pre-school program can have in the lives of small children and their families.
Hardly Child’s Play
The center opened two years ago in June, but Patterson’s career teaching pre-school started long before. In high school, Patterson took a child-development course that required her to observe at a childcare center. Two weeks into the project, she was offered a job. Two years later, she opened her own home-daycare business.
“When I started operating my own, giving kids one-on-one attention was my goal,” Patterson said. “I always wanted to be more than the typical what people would call a babysitter.”
She worked toward that goal by furthering her own education and opening a pre-school program in her Topeka home using the resources of ERC, an organization now known as ChildCare Aware ® of Eastern Kansas. Patterson took advantage of classes, their lending library and ideas they offered to improve her business.
After taking the ERC class, Developing your Childcare Business, which helps childcare providers understand the business side of the profession, Patterson decided to become a mentor to other childcare providers.
“A lot of people go into childcare thinking they are going to play with kids all day and have fun and not understand the business aspect of it,” Patterson said. “When I started out, I wish I had someone who held my hand and walked me through.”
Promoting the profession she loves has become an important part of Patterson’s mission as a business owner. She tries to counteract the negative impression many people have of family childcare.
“I really want people to see there are more positives in family childcare. Children do learn in family childcare,” Patterson said. “If I can help someone grow in this profession, all they have to do is call.”
Patterson’s vision has also led to the growth of her business. In 2011, she was named the Kansas Child Care Provider of the year. That year she also was recognized as an outstanding women-owned business by the Kansas Department of Commerce and earned a five star rating for care from the state. Her husband urged her to expand. Others supported and encouraged her, but what really spurred Patterson to act were the children on her waiting list that she couldn’t serve.
“I had one little boy on my waiting list. He went into kindergarten not ever being able to go through the program,” Patterson said. “I was running out of room at my home, and it was time to give more children a firm foundation in education.”
As an entrepreneur, Patterson says her business growth has been about leveraging resources and learning to look beyond just acting on a good idea. Throughout her career, she has never stopped pushing forward because she believes in her profession. She became a businessperson because it allowed her to live her passion, but it has been a hard road to travel.
“Being an entrepreneur is more than just waking up and thinking you want to do something,” Patterson said.
Patterson still focuses on the one-on-one attention for children and their families. She is a hands-on director offering parents resources to help with their children’s learning. Patterson says that when she takes a child into her care, she also takes on a family, and works to help them in any way she can.
Owning her own childcare center was always a dream for Patterson. Even though the journey hasn’t always been easy, Patterson says she is glad for the long-road it took to get there.
“I wouldn’t change anything, because I‘ve learned from everything I’ve taken in my past experiences and grown on those to become better. Now that I’ve expanded, I’m learning all over again,” Patterson said.