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Community Highlights: Meet Garri Davis of Water Lily Learning Centers

Today we’d like to introduce you to Garri Davis. 

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
My journey started while working in Corporate America. My dream was to always be the CEO of a successful organization. I worked as hard as a could to impress the powers that be that I deserved the next available promotion. I even when back to school 3 times and I graduated with honors each time. My continuous education had no impact on my success. I found myself unmotivated and discouraged because my plan was just not working out. At this time, I was a single parent with 3 degrees a mortgage, and a car payment. Some people would say what happened next was the worst thing that could happen but for me, I would say it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. On one spring day, I walked into work and was immediately summonsed to an HR office it was at that time that I was relieved of my duties from that company. As I walked out of that building, I remember letting out a long sigh and then I remember laughing uncontrollably as I drove away. I was finally free. I decided in that moment that it was my time. Time to believe in myself! Time to invest in me and my family’s futures. It was time for me to be the CEO of my own organization and I was ready! 

After spending about a month of quality time with my children which included doing things that I normally could not do like sitting down eating breakfast, picking them up from school, spending time after school, making sure all of their homework was done, and even sometimes just lying around doing nothing at all. Soon after I embarked on my journey of starting my first childcare center. 

I had approximately $10,000 to invest. After looking for several months, completing all the necessary paperwork and licensing requirements I was able to open. Water Lily Learning Center opened with 1 student and 4 teachers. On the day the center opened my bank account was in the negative. I was nervous and apprehensive I had not idea how I would retain my employees while I waited for children to enroll. Within the next 6 months, my enrollment had grew to sustain my employees and pay them however I was still unable to pay myself. I would consider this survival of the fittest. There was no way for me to quit. I never wanted to go back to work for someone else and by this time, I now had 2 children and 1 grandchild and I would use this a my motivation to continue on. I looked for cost savings to purchase food, materials, and books. My teachers had alternative schedules so that I did not have to pay 40 hours a week. I extended hours so that I could make more money. This time as an entrepreneur was not easy there was little time to sleep and there was not time to enjoy my life. But if I had not made the sacrifices I did at this time I would have not been able to sustain myself in business. 

This year is my 10-year business anniversary. Over this time, I have grown to 2 childcare center locations with over 25 employees serving over 200 children. 

I have become an expert in the area of childcare and business and a few years ago I started a leadership development and coaching agency. Garri Davis Agency where we strategize with small business to assist them in solving complex problems within their organizations. We offer individual and group coaching programs. 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
There has been many obstacles along the way. I would say the top 3 challenges are:  

1. Initial funding – as a female entrepreneur it is very difficult to find any type of funding to help start a business and at the time when I first started there was no funding.

2. Learning Curves – I always tell people that I didn’t grow up in early childhood and with the lack of role models are mentors there was a lot of trial by fire.

3. Currently, the major challenge is “The Great Resignation” which lends to the inability to find employees creating a challenge with enrolling more students.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
I founded Water Lily in 2012.  After spending many years working in Corporate America with many professional disappointments, equipped with a master’s degree in Business, a dream of entrepreneurship and an aspiration to  help others. I decided to open Water Lily Learning Center. My vision was to provide an educational platform of high standards and providing children with an inspiring atmosphere for learning. I also wanted to provide long-term careers for anyone interested in investing in our children’s future. 

Over the past 10 years, Water Lily has grown in many ways. One of the areas with tremendous growth was with our employees. We started as a company hiring anyone qualified to work in a childcare center. To a team of highly qualified credentialed teachers who are passionate in early childhood. Our focus been on enhanced hiring practices, onboarding, motivated coaching, and creating a community of excellence and inclusion. We want our staff to understand they as teachers they make important contributions to countless lives and to the future of this nation. That choosing a career in Early Childhood Education is an opportunity to change and improve the world. And where can you go to work each day and get an opportunity to laugh, play, and be a superhero and one of the most influential people in a child’s life all at the same time. We have created a culture within our organization and we call it WaterLilySTRONG! Our culture focuses on Structure, Teamwork and Trust, Respect and Responsibility, Nurturing, and Gratitude. Water Lily staff approach each day with positive exceptions. And have a shared sense of what it takes to be successful and we work together to ensure progress. We always work together in the best interest of our colleagues, families and friends. We acknowledge and appreciate the goodness in the little things and in all of our staff member, families, and children. Since communicating and implementing this into our daily culture our company has seen a decrease in turnover and an increase in overall employee satisfaction and it has even increased our student retention rates. Water Lily goes an extra step in ensuring that our employees have work-life balance and are able to plan for retirement. We support our teachers by providing them with up to 5 hours of planning time a week, planned time away from work, supplemental insurance, coaching, paid training, and a 401k plan. 

Over the past 10 years, Water Lily Learning Center has recognized the important of building relationships with other community organizations. These organization help us in providing a connection to our community while supporting our staff and the families we serve. We have partnered with Hamilton County Community Action Agency Early Head Start. This partnership allows us to provide low ratios for our infant and toddlers, provide community resources for our families, provide diapers and wipes for our little ones, and provide coaching and access to a free CDA for our teachers. The partnership also helped us to create a great environment for our infant and toddlers. 

We have partnered with the Public Library who sends a librarian to our school each month to promote literacy by reading to out students, Crayons to Computers who provides free classroom supplies and materials to our teachers and students, we partner with WeTHRIVE and 4cforchildren to provide resources to the center. And we partner with Cincinnati Preschool Promise who helps to ensure quality preschool to our 3- and 4-year-old has helped us to add Spanish and soccer to our curriculum. 

Water Lily Learning Center is committed to continuous training and growth of our employees solidifying their career choice to work with our greatest asset and we are continued to growing place in the community ultimately being seen as the preferred childcare center in Cincinnati. 

Alright, so to wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
As far as building a successful business goes there are going to be peaks and valleys of course that is my life story so I accept each challenge head on and try to always remain professional and positive. I try to listen more than I talk and most of all be confident in my ability to lead. 

So, know I can stand before you an entrepreneur with 2 successful childcare businesses, a lucrative coaching business, a transformational speaker, and an amazon best-selling author. 

As leaders, I charge you to:

 

1. Be resilient – Things are going to happen don’t take things personal stay focused on your goals

2. Be grateful – appreciate the small things

3. Never Give up – Will it get hard yes but will it be worth it? Absolutely

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