Story written by Sasha Keenan.
Erica Fagala keeps a watchful eye on 16 children, juggling Band-Aid requests and tummy-ache complaints. She chuckles every so often — the kids have a tendency to make amusing comments.
For as long as she can remember, Fagala, 31, has been passionate about child care. A single mother at age 20, she said she was barely making ends meet and depended on food stamps and Medicaid.
But she always knew that she wanted more. She said she felt hopeless trying to get there.
“It was just trying to figure out how to get started,” Fagala said.
Three years ago, Fagala had a breakthrough. With the help of a roughly $25,000 micro-loan from Central Missouri Community Action, she was able to open a day care center on Fay Street called King’s Kids.
“The joy and the reward in my job is meeting people like Erica,” said Teri Roberts, the center’s micro-economics director. Roberts has helped three others start new businesses, such as the Show Me Heart Youth Sports Association.
King’s Kids takes up a section of the first floor in the Youth Empowerment Zone: a house-turned-business space with creative, recreational and educational areas for kids and teens. Fagala works with children ages 5-12 both during the school year and the summer.
The kids take swim lessons, work with tutors, and play games outdoors. Fagala has developed designated daily activities for the summer program, such as Thinking Thursday and Field Trip Friday.
Fagala strives to instill values and develop skills in the children. She believes excellent childcare is crucial.
“Most kids will spend more hours in their childcare setting than at their home, so it’s important for those hours to be quality,” Fagala said.
She smiles when she tells stories about times that her kids have learned something, from a few words in Spanish to how to treat other people.
Recently, she devoted a Wednesday to teaching them about entrepreneurship. The kids started their own “business” and exchanged play money. Soon enough, they were using terms like profit and service, Fagala said.
King’s Kids has a waiting list of 45 children hoping to enroll. When asked if she expected that kind of success five years ago, Fagala replied without hesitation: “No. Not at all.”
However, getting where she is today hasn’t been easy.
Fagala was raised by a single mother and didn’t always have a stable financial situation. She said her mom was an entrepreneur but not always a successful one.
After graduating from high school and then getting pregnant at 19, Fagala found herself struggling. At one point, she was balancing motherhood, attending school at Columbia College, and working.
“I can’t say there weren’t days I didn’t say, ‘Do I just want to give up?’” Fagala said.
Eager to move beyond her circumstances, Fagala decided to call Roberts.
At first, Fagala was nervous. She was used to being treated as incapable of self-sufficiency.
“A lot of times when you’re in that poverty state, you just assume that everyone is going to approach you like you’re needy,” Fagala said.
Despite Fagala’s apprehension, Roberts said she saw something special in her.
Roberts sees hundreds of people with business plans pass through her office, she said, but very few possess what Fagala has — a willingness to work hard.
At the Community Action center, Roberts coached her in business classes, helped her put together a plan and acted as her supporter.
“With her, I never had a doubt because I saw her passion,” Roberts said.
Watching her interact with the children, Roberts remarked that Fagala was meant to do this.
Fagala agreed, “I feel empowered every day.”