The School Life

The School Life

When she founded Escuela-Viva, Angie Garcia wanted to create an early childhood education program that would have a direct impact on the overall development of the children it served. “I wanted to create a community that would support the development of well-rounded children,” said Angie. In order to achieve this, it meant building a school, from the ground up.

Escuela-Viva is a bilingual preschool located in Southeast Portland that serves children and their families. Today’s thriving and successful enterprise began 10 years ago in Angie’s basement.

As the mother of a nearly two year old, Angie needed to work to support her family. Yet she could not find a preschool that fit her needs and she worried about the lack of socialization that a nanny would provide. So instead, she turned to her years of experience as a child and family social worker and set out to start her own school.

The school started with just a few children, including her own daughter. Before long, Escuela-Viva was growing rapidly due to Angie’s unique vision of a dedicated learning environment and families’ word-of-mouth marketing. The rapid growth forced Escuela-Viva to spread out into three locations which proved challenging for the children, their parents and the teachers. The school was at its maximum capacity and needed to expand.

Not sure how to proceed, Angie approached a few local lending institutions. She found that the amount she needed was too small for most traditional investment banks. Eventually she approached some smaller lenders and secured a loan for the school’s expansion through a SBA Microlender, Mercy Corps Northwest and a Community Development Financial Institution, Albina Opportunities Corporation.

The SBA Microloan program provides loans up to $50,000 to help small businesses and certain not-for-profit childcare centers start up and expand. The SBA provides funds to specially designated intermediary lenders, which are nonprofit community-based organizations with experience in lending as well as management and technical assistance. These intermediaries administer the Microloan program for eligible borrowers.

In 2010, Escuela-Viva moved to its newly renovated building on SE Pine Street. The new site provides five classrooms, kitchen space and an outdoor play area and garden. All of which builds on Angie’s vision of supporting the development of the “whole child.” One of Escuela-Viva’s 18 full-time employees is a nutrition specialist that works to feed all 89 children healthy home-cooked meals each day.

According to Angie, having the right staff and professionals is the key to having a successful business. “You need to have competent folks in your corner – professionals at what they do – and you need to be able to trust them,” said Angie.

Angie approaches business much like she approaches Escuela-Viva’s mission – finding the best, most effective way to do anything. “We strive to make the puzzle fit together in the most optimal way, not just the easy way,” said Angie. “And boy do I like a challenge.”

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