When Christine Neely and Melanie Richardson were working together on a literacy project for families attending a federally funded program, it quickly became evident that parents needed more support than they could provide in a 90-minute class.
That’s how these New Orleans-based education veterans came to found Training Grounds, a nonprofit that provides parent learning experiences, professional development training for early childhood educators, and operates the We PLAY Center, a safe play space for young children and their parents. Last week, Training Grounds won first place and was named audience favorite at PitchNOLA: Education. The duo plan to use the prize money to expand the operating hours for the play center and launch a mobile We PLAY Center.
There’s a big gap in early childhood education across the country, but particularly in New Orleans, where more than 3,500 infants and toddlers are on a wait-list for an Early Head Start seat.
“Early Head Start and child care subsidies reach only 11 percent of children ages 0-3, leaving many families to find other solutions,” the founders explain. “If these children are not offered an alternative they likely will end up in the 60% of American children who enter kindergarten every year unprepared and lacking the language, numeracy and social emotional skills necessary to be successful in school and beyond.”
What’s more, they say, many parents lack of clear understanding of ages and stages of development and often miss key opportunities to provide the kind of interactions that are specifically geared toward their child’s needs and capabilities. That’s where the parenting workshops come in, which cover topics ranging from coparenting to helping young kids build motor skills.
As with any startup, the rise of Training Grounds, which was founded in 2016, has not been all prizes and accolades.
All startups face challenges, and of course the biggest one is usually funding. Training Grounds received seed funding from 4.0 Schools and Camelback Ventures. This month, they’re launching an end-of-year giving campaign to secure donations to support the Training Grounds mission. The company also partners with other organizations in the community to provide services to parents and educators.
Another challenge has been “knowing how to do all aspects of running a company and doing it all well,” Richardson says. “Learning how to divide and conquer tasks like fundraising, board development, marketing and program development was essential.”
Participation in programs like Propeller’s Startup Accelerator and fellowships at 4.0 Schools and Camelback Ventures has helped them develop these and other business skills.
In the end, though, success also has a lot to do with passion: “The passion you feel for your product or service comes through every aspect of your company,” Richardson says. “Your passion is your driving force and will help you to succeed.”
Photo credit: Tracie Morris Schaefer.