Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a nonprofit tutoring collaborative that began officially in late January 2016 but has transformed considerably since. During her journey she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.
Worcester Public Library, Wayland Free Public Library and Lincoln Public Library are among the first libraries to have added The Learning Hub’s maker programs to their children’s activity calendars.
And while the growing success of The Learning Hub is one to be proud of, it comes with a revolving list of challenges. Converting an idea into a viable business sounds like the toughest part of being an entrepreneur, but as time passes, I continue to learn that keeping things afloat is harder than anyone could have told me.
Whether I am battling to add grant money to the budget to maintain enough materials for a year-long program, or passing out flyers looking for volunteers, I am, more often than not, a one-woman show trying to keep hold of all the loose ends.
I am the marketing department. I am human resources. I am the web developer. I am the teacher. I am the program coordinator. But most of all, I am the only one at the end of the day who scratches off all the things from the to-do list.
I am a big believer in being self-sufficient and relying on your own talents, but I am becoming forcefully aware that I am only one person — and that has limitations.
Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The model students, or scroll down to explore more of her story
As interest in the program continues to grow, I am understanding the value of a quality team, one that can represent me, The Hub and our mission without having to be micromanaged.
The Hub runs on a limited budget, though, and it is a daunting task to find people who are willing to dedicate their time and skills for a minimal fee or as a volunteer. Growing the team could seem like a minimal roadblock, but for the success of The Hub it is a demanding challenge that trickles down throughout the business.
Adding new libraries to our list of affiliates is relatively easy. The pitch, the product, the curriculum all make sense. Libraries are understanding of both the value we bring to their patrons and the growing demand for such a program.
After the pitch is completed and we get libraries excited to start implementing the creative classes, we run into our first challenge: scheduling.
Worcester Public Library is dear to my heart for several reasons, and so I personally teach the STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math] curriculum to the Worcester students and it is the most rewarding part of my Mondays, but when I am teaching at WPL, it means I am unable to teach at another library on Mondays.
This leaves me with a limited schedule. Mondays, I teach at WPL, Tuesdays I tutor at Art Reach, Wednesdays I teach in Wayland and most recently, Fridays have been taken up by the Lincoln Library. That leaves me with Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays — until we count Leadership Worcester on Thursdays, the IgWorcesterMA social media networking events on Sundays and family days on Saturdays. My weeks — which also, of course, include homeschooling my two daughters — are booked solid.
So, to continue to be able to expand the program, I have repackaged the curriculum for libraries. Instead of hiring us to teach the STEAM maker classes, libraries will now purchase the curriculum from us for a low cost of $100 per class, and I will include staff training.
The library will then be able to schedule classes per the availability of their staff and volunteers. While this alleviates my teaching time crunch, it also allows me to sharpen my focus on adding new elements to the curriculum and growing the program outside the 40-mile radius.
When I initially launched this venture with the intent of having college students trained to teach these classes and receive college credit, I quickly learned the higher education institutions are not as eager to collaborate with an unknown program like The Learning Hub. Breaking barriers of communication was difficult, even at my own college, Worcester State University.
This idea of creating a cycle between early learners and college students is still a notion I think is worth pursuing, but the path is rocky and the college interest is limited. Still, opening a door to this model would allow The Hub to grow organically and become self-sufficient.
As of now, The Hub grows within its limits.
But if the challenges of teacher-volunteers are not met or if libraries do not purchase the curriculum because of the lack of available staff members, then it will mean The Learning Hub must change its business model yet again.
Follow Giselle’s inspiring story from the beginning: