They say when you want something done right do it yourself, which is exactly what Chelsey Steinlicht did when she went looking for quality daycare for her daughters. Now Chelsey owns Bright Futures Learning Center, a wildly successful child care center in south Fargo that has expanded well beyond Chelsey’s initial dreams. She talks with Ladyboss about work-life integration, COVID’s impact on daycare, and the term ‘mom-preneur.’
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I own Bright Futures Learning Center, which started in 2013. I’m a mother of four, and a huge advocate for the early learning community and foster care. We cater a lot to that in our company. I grew up in the Twin Cities in the St. Michael-Albertville area, and came to NDSU for college. I was enamored by the community of Fargo-Moorhead. I loved that it was close, collaborative and engaging. I was a young and enthusiastic person ready to join the workforce and we decided to stay here.
How did you get involved in your work?
When I graduated college, I started working at a local bank. My background is international business. At that time, my dream involved corporate and international travel. I got a job here at a bank as my husband was finishing college, and I realized that I did not enjoy the cubicle life. I had to figure out what made me happy. On the side I was volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I knew I wanted to work with children. So, I took a job as a center director managing an on-site center in Moorhead. I realized I had a bigger capacity, and I could do more with the tools I had.
I started working with the Fargo school district. I worked with low-income kids in our community and found that was really my passion. However, at the time I had three little girls that needed daycare. My job allowed me to bring them with me, but I determined there was a need for quality learning services in our community. This was 2012, and there weren’t a lot of options. People were flocking to Fargo because of the recession, and we were lacking in quality child care. I opened a learning center, [Bright Futures Learning Center], in south Fargo. I thought it would take us a year to fill all of our spots, and it took us just six weeks. We were bursting at the seams almost immediately.
By the next winter, we expanded because there was such a clear need. We went from 78 to 143 kids. We run quality programs for kids of all income levels, and we were asked by the state of North Dakota to duplicate a model. We partnered with the Department of Human Services to build a duplicate center. In 2017 we built that secondary site. I think we’ve really raised the bar on the standards of early childhood care. We offer a dual language program, regular child care services, and preschool. Between the programs we offer, we serve about 400 kids in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
I started by just wanting to give my kids daycare, and it has expanded to all of this!
How did COVID impact your work?
In 2020, COVID hit, and daycares have been stretched to the max. I called up to Human Services to try and figure out how we could use our resources to better support our community through this time. I found out there were children actually living at the Human Services office because foster placements weren’t taking kids into homes. We immediately developed a plan to provide 24-hour care. Hours after establishing that plan we had kids being dropped off to be part of that.
These kids will be running our community someday. I think our job is incredibly important, and I’m honored we can be an important part of their development.
You had unprecedented success pretty immediately. What was it like to open your doors and within six weeks meet a yearlong goal?
Absolutely overwhelming. I had no experience with business ownership at that time. I was analytical and did a lot of planning. I really thought it would take at least ten months to get our center up and running, so there was an immediate stress on my personal life and our staff. It was insane, but once I saw that happen, I knew that the demand was really there and people were looking for quality. That’s what families wanted to be available, and my thoughts were affirmed by our quick success.
Being a mother propelled you into your career. You’ve talked about being a mom-preneur. What does that mean, and how does that look in practice?
Mom-preneur means you’re busy raising a family and also busy raising a business. Those two avenues are not often compared, but raising a family and developing a business take similar skills and time. As a mother you want to grow these amazing little people to be contributing members of society, and as a business owner you want to raise a profitable business that contributes in some way to society. So, the two roles are actually very synchronized and can also really conflict.
What would you tell other women who are mothers or want to be mothers about starting a business?
Women are notorious for dropping their passion to take care of others. Those can be done at the same time. You can be passionate and obtain success, while still being a mother and not sacrificing those moments with your kids. I have chosen to not give up gingerbread houses and hockey drop-offs. I choose to work around those family moments. I know when to be present for my business and when to be present for my family. It takes juggling, but it’s possible. Women are incredibly intelligent and are able to multitask.
How do you keep a work-life balance?
I have never looked at it as work-life balance. It’s not like a teeter totter. To me, it’s more of an integration and not a balance. So, I need to integrate my family life into my business life at times. I’ve sacrificed sleep a few times I’ll be honest.
Child care and women have been very seriously impacted by the last few years. When you think of this term that’s being thrown around, “new normal,” what do you picture as the future for child care and for women?
I think we need to refocus. Child care is an essential field. The effort that we’re putting in [to this next generation] will pay off in the future. These industries that used to be the underdogs have been proven as essential parts of our society, and we need to invest more into them. This time has changed the way we view teachers and child care, which used to be a really humbling industry. Now, parents that are staying home and schooling themselves have a new respect for the magic that happens in child care.