Valisa Dutrieuille spent 19 years working in corporate America and holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Robert Morris University. Nonetheless, when she decided to open a child care center, she knew she still had a lot to learn about running her own business — things you can’t learn in books, and aren’t necessarily concerns when you work for someone else.
What would she do if she only had enough cash on hand to make payroll, but couldn’t pay herself? What if her roof leaked, and she couldn’t reach her landlord? How could she best plan for long-term success?
As is often the case, she turned to her mother, Allene Thomas, for advice.
Having operated a group home in Wilkinsburg for 19 years, Thomas was well-connected to local resources, and she was taking a training class on day care when she heard about the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation’s CORE FOUR workshop for small businesses. She pointed Dutrieuille to the class, and attended alongside her daughter in the fall of 2016.
The following July, Dutrieuille opened Thomas Child Care Learning Academy, and she credits the knowledge she obtained during CORE FOUR with giving her the perspective and practical advice she would need to succeed.
Gordon Manker, the WCDC’s business development specialist, brought in entrepreneurs to share their experiences, which proved invaluable.
“Gordon was very open in terms of getting started,” recalls Dutrieuille. “He broke it down. It helped put things in perspective.”’
The course helped her refine her business plan from random thoughts into an actionable format that she could use as a resource for things like obtaining lines of credit.
She now recommends the course to other small business owners, and she shares the CORE FOUR principles with her employees: “Education is very important to me. I do make that a big part of my discussions with all of my employees. I want them to have that foundation and take that information and use it.”
Today, Dutrieuille’s business offers childcare for ages 2 months to 12 years, as well as an early Head Start program for infants through age 2. Both of her children work for her — daughter Aneia, a recent Point Park University graduate, is a teacher, as is her son Adrian, a Chatham University student.
Of course, Dutrieuille’s mother still pitches in as needed, meaning the business is a three-generation family enterprise.
Though running her own business has its share of challenges, Dutrieuille finds it deeply satisfying.
“I feel like I’m teaching my children that they can go against the grain” and pursue an entrepreneurial path, she says. “It’s definitely worthwhile. I have 12-hour days. I had 12-hour days in corporate, too, but you don’t feel appreciated. Here, parents are very appreciative, and they know we’re taking good care of their children.”