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CC Alumna Perseveres to Keep Her Small Business Running through COVID-19

Jatinder Kaur
Jatinder Kaur [BA '11] with student. Photo: Spenser Hasak

In 1998, Jatinder Kaur [BA '11] was overworked and overwhelmed.

The mother of an infant son at the time, Kaur worked long hours at a Dunkin' Donuts in Everett alongside her husband, Kamal Singh, in order to pay the family's bills. While the young couple took on as many shifts as they possibly could, their combined salaries still weren't enough to make ends meet or cover their son's expensive childcare costs.

"It was so hard and I was not making so much money," said Kaur, who moved to the U.S. from India in 1991. "Whatever 1 was making, I was just (using) to pay for childcare."

It wasn't until a conversation she had with her son's daycare provider that Kaur thought she might have found a solution to the family's problems.

"The lady who used to take care of my son, I was trying to explain to her one day that this is very hard (and that) I won't continue with childcare because if l make $300, I pay her $200, so what's the point to work?" the mother of two now-adult children said.

Empathetic to Kaur's situation, her son's care provider suggested she explore the idea of opening a childcare center in her own home.

Doing so would allow her to not only take care of her own son, but would also bring in more money than her job at Dunkin' Donuts, and Kaur, 48, was intrigued.

"From there, I never stepped back in the daycare," she said. "I continued to take classes in early education, and I started learning more about children. I said, 'OK, maybe I want to do something better in the future.'"

Kaur signed up for early education and care classes at Cambridge College in Boston, deciding to pursue a Bachelor's degree with the intention of one day making the transition from running a daycare to teaching or pursuing a career in education administration.

In 2001, after two years of preparation and schooling, she opened her first daycare based out of her home in Everett. However, the experience wasn't without its share of challenges.

"I didn't know all the regulations surrounding childcare," Kaur said of the long months beforehand "I was learning little by little."

The family eventually moved from Everett to Saugus in 2015, and Kaur temporarily took a break from running the daycare. She found brief employment as a kindergarten teacher in Somerville but although she enjoyed the work, the long commute ultimately sent her searching for something closer to home.

While she worked a temporary job at the Melrose YMCA, Kaur decided to hunt for a location outside of her home to open a new daycare.

She found a place — a small spot at Mills 58 on Pulaski Street in Peabody — and went to work.

"In the beginning, it was hard. I never thought I'd be a business woman," Kaur said, noting that the undertaking took longer than she anticipated.

"Once we started the construction, we were thinking everything would be done in six months, but it took more than a year," she said. "The process was very difficult because getting all the licenses from the city, getting all the inspections done — I didn't know anything about the business.

"I was putting all of my savings into this thing that I didn't know if it would work."

Aside from the usual woes of starting a business from the ground up, Kaur said she often found herself at odds with city officials, many of whom she felt failed to take her or her business seriously.

While her family remained unfailingly supportive, she said that as an immigrant, she often felt brushed aside by a city in which she had few connections and little power.

"Sometimes I feel like there is public discrimination because I'm not from America and (English) is not my first language. Because I'm a second language learner, there is some stuff I might not (understand)," Kaur said. "I adopt this culture, but I'm not 100 percent into it.

"It makes a big difference, you know. Sometimes I feel like some things I want to do, I can't because I'm not that powerful yet."

She added she often felt she had to work harder to be taken seriously, noting one particularly frustrating instance where the city seemed reluctant to take action to reduce the number of speeding vehicles on the road right outside the daycare — something Kaur said became a serious safety hazard.

"When I opened the center in Peabody, I felt that the city should have helped us more, getting the licensing and all that help," she said. "I opened the business for myself, but at the same time, I opened the business to help the community. I'm giving some people jobs and I'm helping everyone that I can, but sometimes it felt like the city didn't really want it."

By 2018, however, Kaur's business, which she named the Little Star Child Care Center, was finally up and running, and she quickly attracted 35 dedicated clients. From every angle, it seemed she had finally made her dream — nearly 20 years in the making — a reality.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March. More than 60 percent of her families stopped using her service, and Kaur was left to pick up the pieces, relying primarily on social media as a cheap form of advertising to keep her daycare from going under entirely.

Now. one year on, she's finally starting to rebuild, and this time, she's hoping to come back stronger than ever.

"When you try so hard and you achieve your goals, it really makes you happy," she said. "I enjoy working with the kids. I love to see them happy and play all day. As soon as you walk in the class, you can see the whole class running to hug you.

"Those are the times I feel like, 'OK, I'm doing something to make somebody happy."