Answering a Community Need
Leslie Billington thought security at her child care facility in Taylortown was adequate until the shootings last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"We had several parents come to us after that tragedy and ask, 'What would you do?' Everyone was talking about school security but not preschool security," said Billington, who opened Village Children's House last April.
Billington consulted with the Pinehurst Police Department and the Moore County Sheriff's Office after the shooting rampage and decided to lock the exterior door to her 3,400 square feet of space at the Pinehurst Rheumatology Clinic building on Murdocksville Road.
"By doing that, we've cut off access to everyone. Only managers can open the front door," she said. "We put in a doorbell, and people we don't know who are on the parent-approved list must show us identification before picking up a child."
Billington also put locks on the playground gates and requires teachers to have cellphones when outside with the children.
"The parents have been all for it," she said of the changes. "We already had an emergency plan in place. We've just had to enhance it."
Village Children's House is a day care and preschool that is based on the Montessori theory.
"The state does not recognize Montessori as a curriculum. By state law, we have to implement other curriculums to be a full-time preschool," Billington said. "We've decided to call ourselves a Montessori experience. We teach our children through the Montessori philosophy, but we use toys and teaching tools that are not 100 percent Montessori."
Billington, who has a bachelor of psychology degree with a focus on child development, said the idea for Village Children's House was born from her own needs as a working wife looking for the best possible care for her children.
"All three of my children went to Montessori preschools because I could not find a good fit with traditional schools," she said. "Two of my children have additional needs, so I've spent years working with experts and specialists on proper child care development."
Billington started working on her business plan in April 2011 but soon ran into a stumbling block: raising money to open.
"You can't find a bank that will give start-up money right now," she said. "We tried four or five banks, even the ones that are supposed to be small-business friendly. We got rejected, but decided to put one foot in front of the other and move forward."
After finding a location, Billington and her husband, John, spent countless hours and five figures of their own money upfitting the space.
"We became a jack-of-all-trades and renovated everything ourselves," she said. "John did all of the murals in the building, which adds a lot of character."
John Billington, an artist by trade, painted different themes in each of the three classrooms. They range from trains and flying dragons in the infant room to the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria in the preschool room.
"It was quite fun doing that," he said.
Leslie Billington co-founded the school with her sister, Amy Milligan, but Milligan left last May for Texas due to a family emergency.
"That made it a little tricky, but this place seems to keep bouncing back, no matter what," Billington said.
Billington took over Milligan's tasks - billing, payroll, internal reports, vendors and supplies - until hiring Theresa Bush last month as operations manager.
"She is actually one of our moms," Billington said. "She has whipped us into shape and taken so much off my plate. She's been phenomenal. She's a keeper."
Village Children's House employs 10 people, cares for 40 children, and reached break-even three months after opening.
"We really feel like we've answered a need in the community," Billington said. "We listen to our parents. We have an open dialogue with them and do our best to fill their needs."
For example, the business has no tardy policy, no potty training rule, accepts organic diets, allows pacifiers, and lets children bring comfort toys and blankets.
"Parents come and go based on their schedule," Billington said. "I think our philosophy rings true with parents who want a lot of say about how their children are taken care of during the day."
Village Children's House is open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and is only closed Dec. 24, Dec. 25, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
"We had a sign-up sheet for Thanksgiving Day but no takers, so everyone got the day off," Billington said with a smile.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the pilot.com.
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