In this series of interviews, we explore stories from immigrant/BIPOC*/women business owners who have adapted during the pandemic. The purpose is to learn and connect through shared experience. In this interview, Jo Anderson Cavinta (Diversity Services Coordinator at KCLS) spoke with Catrice, a child educator and business owner in Federal Way.
*BIPOC means "Black, Indigenous, and People of Color."
Meet Catrice, Child Educator and Business Owner
“I have been a resident of Federal Way for a long time.” Catrice recalls moving here when she was in the 12th grade in ‘96. She got her associates from Highline College and thought her education would end there, but she went on to receive a master’s degree from Antioch. “I remember being in class, pregnant with my daughter.” Now, she describes herself as an educator, mother, sister and friend.
Catrice is also a spiritual person, seeking guidance. “I honed in my vision for my life and I knew it would be working with young people. One of my passions was working in the school district.” After serving in various roles, she still wasn’t certain in what capacity she was to teach. Then she found herself in a 5th grade class with kids that were experiencing difficulties learning due to some form of trauma in their life. To Catrice, affirmation time was very important. “There was always a child who would cry because they couldn’t think of something good to say about themselves.” She wanted to change that.
“Okay, this is what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to help young people be good human beings.”
In 2018, Catrice took a risk and used a big chunk of her savings to lease a space for her business. “I had a little bit of money saved, I didn’t have a loan or financial backing. I just jumped in the water.” She did it with the goal of transforming lives. “Our young people need a space and place where they feel loved and nurtured to be their best selves. In my little corner, this could change the trajectory of our planet.” She was on the path of building a program that centered young people and involved their families. Her clientele was growing and she started to break even, financially. “I was at a point when I was getting in a flow.”
Then COVID-19 hit.
It happened within a year and a few months after opening her business. “I was already struggling financially to hold everything together. When I saw this was getting real, I realized I still had to pay the lease on my building.” Catrice found herself at home, no business and no way to pay the rent. Her positivity kept her going.
“I had to make an effort not to stress out.” She told herself, “this is a blessing, I can clean my house, get myself together.” In the early stages of COVID, her landlord was not pressing her for a payment. She could breathe. “Staying positive meant staying open to change. That made me receptive and open to ideas.”
A turning point.
Between April and May, Catrice contacted the City of Federal Way and Highline College’s Small Business Association (SBA) to learn what she could do. Both were extremely helpful in helping her make decisions. Her SBA advisor “helped me shift my lens. She showed me I was in a good place because I was nearing the end of my two-year lease.” Her lease ended that August. Catrice had also just received her tax returns. She weighed the pros and cons of her options.
“I try to operate from a place of integrity.” She worked out a plan with her landlord. “I was guided to ask if he would let me out of the lease early. We made an arrangement - he kept my security deposit, I paid for the month owed and I was out.”
The road ahead.
Catrice knew it would be challenging to pivot. “I’m not tech savvy. People were telling me to do things online, but I didn't know how. My programming is based on personal interaction with children.” What kept her grounded was the belief that this was what she was supposed to be doing.
“What if I made my program mobile? I got in my car and some families were open to having mobile sessions.” She was able to continue their routine. “That worked out so I adapted. Okay, so I don’t have a physical location, but now I call myself the ‘traveling teacher.’”
One of her clients had a tent and offered it for a session with their granddaughter. This sparked an idea. “This gave me the experience of teaching outdoors and led me to host an outdoor learning center. That’s what COVID did for me, it made me have to adapt. I didn’t have the same income, but I was able to sustain myself and save my business.” She just purchased a shuttle bus that she’s working on transforming into a classroom.
“I didn’t come this far to quit.”
Catrice’s Business Tip: Contact your city; there are good people out there who really want small businesses to make it. I learned about and applied for the Federal Way COVID-19 Small Business Assistance Grant Program.
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