Gum in Your Hair

A blog for parents under the big sky.

My Vyllage

:: WRITTEN BY JULIE KLEINE::

MyVyllage is a new business concept developed through a shared vision of revolutionizing early childhood education into a connected supportive community. Cofounders Erica Mackey and Elizabeth Szymanski both have ties to Africa through developing businesses with social impact there, but after having children, their focus moved closer to home. 

Erica, an Oxford educated award-winning serial entrepreneur explains, “While living abroad, I assumed the childcare system in the U.S. was working. However, when I started inquiring it was mind-blowing to hear the challenges parents face in finding affordable quality care.” 

Former Oxford classmate and fellow entrepreneur, Elizabeth could relate. After moving to Colorado, she contacted a well- respected early learning center to enroll her 18-month-old daughter and found a two- year waiting list. “It was a horrible parenting experience,” Elizabeth remembers, “because I suddenly felt like I was behind the ball and not giving her the best start in life. Then I was faced with the decision, do I sacrifice quality and put her somewhere that has availability that I can afford, or do I pay more than my family can afford?” Soon after, she got a call from Erica.

The two began a series of conversations with mommy and me groups, preschools, referral agencies—anyone and everyone relating to childcare. It was always the same three factors. “No matter what your income level, you couldn’t have it all: availability, affordability and quality, unless you were on a waitlist while thinking about conceiving!” Erica recalls.

As their conversations continued, they discovered the roots of the problem. “On the provider side we heard, ‘We feel isolated, we feel stigmatized, we don’t have career trajectory’,” Elizabeth explains. Most entered their profession because of their passion for early childhood education, but lack of community, compounded with financial burdens and business frustration fueled burnout in three to five years. 

Erica and Elizabeth’s entrepreneurial minds took over; they knew there was a better way. “The family home is the most affordable because you don’t have high overhead and when done well, the family home is magic, especially when its paired with an evidenced-based curriculum,” explains Elizabeth. “Once we went into a few high quality family home programs, we knew that was it. That was when we set off to build MyVyllage.” 

Montana seemed the perfect place to start. “In Montana, I was blown away by the appetite for entrepreneurship and there was nothing standing in its way of being on the frontier of innovation in early childhood education,” recalls Erica. MyVyllage launched, providing quality affordable childcare through home-based programs. Providers are listed on their website with more opening soon (myvyllage.com).

To address the issue of availability, MyVyllage offers home-based child care providers a three-pronged support system to get them in business and keep them operating. First, business support to maximize income potential through financial management tools, discounts on supplies and marketing support.

Second is mentoring. Their community of existing expert providers supports new programs with everything from navigating licensing to how to set up your home. Experienced, skilled providers can earn extra money being mentors. 

Finally, My Vyllage builds community through connecting providers with professional development, evidenced-based curriculums, discussion boards and shared best practices. 
Brianne Moline, an early childhood educator in Missoula with 10 years of experience is the epitome of the MyVyllage success story. After the birth of her third child she wanted more flexibility, but her switch from working in a center to starting an in-home program brought new challenges. “It’s so frustrating,” she says, “I have an Associate’s degree, am earning my Bachelor’s degree, run my own business, am an advocate for the Montana Association for the Education of Young Children and serve in my children’s PTA, but still felt the stigma of being a daycare provider.” In addition, Brianne wasn’t ready for the isolation she would feel as an in-home educator. 

Brianne was dealing with the same challenges most of her colleagues experience, but after connecting with MyVyllage, that changed. “My mentor is really helpful in guiding me through weekly discussions,” Brianne shares.  She enjoys the discussion board and professional development webinars with the likes of Tom Copeland, plus opportunities through the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard. “I am now part of the community building of other like-minded professionals who feel strongly about early childhood education and providing quality programs,” she says proudly.

The name MyVyllage is no accident. According to Erica, “The sense of connectivity and community seen in Africa was definitely an inspiration. Here we often live far from extended family and everyone has to figure it out for themselves. From the beginning of time raising kids was a communal experience and that’s what we are trying to reignite, the sense that we are better together than we are apart.”

Find out more information and join the MyVyllage community at myvyllage.com

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Julie Kleine lives, loves and writes in Bozeman with her husband and three kids. Reach her at jkleine200@yahoo.com.