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Katrina Jenkins may be the only small business owner in St. Pete who thinks Covid-19 made her life easier. “Before Covid-19, I felt I was all by myself,” the director of Pathways Early Learning Academy says. “Now I am part of a community.”’
Jenkins labored for years to start her own business focused on making high quality education available to everyone. Last fall, she was surrounded by friends, family and representatives of the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce and the City of St. Petersburg as she cut a red ribbon marking the grand opening of her in-home preschool classroom. However, the former social worker would have to wait almost a year to welcome her first students. Like many new business owners, Jenkins imagined that as soon as the doors were open, customers would come pouring in. However, she found marketing a challenge, despite her extensive outreach to the community. Her winter 2020 semester was sparsely attended, and then the pandemic arrived. “I didn’t know how I was going to feed my family,” she says.
Yet there was a silver lining to the coronavirus cloud. Business Resiliency Team Navigator Ronnell Montgomery reached out to Jenkins, and they had an hourlong Zoom meeting. Montgomery helped Jenkins connect with the early childhood education community.
Jenkins began attending Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas meetings via Zoom and connecting with other early childhood educators. She’s now part of a coalition of childcare providers in Pinellas County forming an association.
She also is expanding her services at the Academy. She now offers Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK), which prepares early learners for success in kindergarten, and in-classroom virtual learning for school-aged children with parents looking for a small supervised setting so they can return to work. While she still has a few open slots for each, enrollment for the fall is strong.
Jenkins says, “I’m very confident now. It’s a relief. Finally, I’m getting kids and am on the path to success.”
The Business Resiliency Team was part of Grow Smarter’s Covid-19 response, and served as an emergency response team for small business from March through August. The BRT’s focus on one-on-one connections with business owners and using data as a tool for ensuring equity helped further our mission of building a stronger, inclusive, more resilient St. Petersburg.
Navigation services have now transitioned back to the Greenhouse. If you’re in need of business navigation, or want to learn more, visit: stpetegreenhouse.com/about/navigation