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A woman in a striped dress stands near colorful playground equipment
Tonya Jenkins, who is working to open a child care and learning center in Minneapolis, has been selected as the recipient of a grant supported by Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund.
A woman in a striped dress stands near colorful playground equipment
Tonya Jenkins, who is working to open a child care and learning center in Minneapolis, has been selected as the recipient of a grant supported by Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund.
Small Business
July 8, 2021

Helping Minneapolis small business owners make a way during the pandemic

Through its Open for Business Fund and the Paycheck Protection Program, Wells Fargo is continuing to support small businesses in Minneapolis with the capital and resources they need to make a way to stay open, day after day.

The past 12 months have proven the resiliency and resolve of 30 million small businesses across the U.S. as they make a way to stay open day after day. Wells Fargo recognizes the importance of America’s small businesses — for local communities and the broader national economy — and the company continues to provide small businesses with access to the capital and resources they need to weather the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wells Fargo created the Open for Business Fund in July 2020, with approximately $420 million to help small businesses recover and rebuild. The Open for Business Fund supports community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, and other nonprofits that provide needed capital, technical support, and long-term resiliency programs for small businesses, including racially and ethnically diverse owners who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Since the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, began in 2020, Wells Fargo has helped approximately 282,000 small businesses receive funding to keep more than 1.7 million employees on payroll and their doors open. 85% of these loans have gone to businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

In Minnesota, Wells Fargo has provided more than $296 million in PPP loans to small businesses helping them keep nearly 39,000 jobs. Through the Open for Business Fund, the company has supported nonprofits, and those nonprofits have helped numerous other small businesses. Here is the story of one of the Minneapolis-based small businesses Wells Fargo has reached through the Open for Business Fund.

Overcoming tragedy to make a way

Tonya Jenkins has always loved children. First as a volunteer at a day care center, next as a teacher, then as part of operations and management, Jenkins saw firsthand the power of a quality education and start in life.

“There is always a need for more high-quality programs for infants and very young children,” Jenkins said. “Research shows that children are more likely to succeed in life if their brain development is well-supported in the first five years. It promotes lifelong learning.”

A woman in a striped dress plays with her child in a baby swing
Entrepreneur Tonya Jenkins with her daughter.

Today, this mother of five and lifelong early education advocate is preparing to open Children of the Future Learning Center in Minneapolis.  

Her path to reach this point has not come easily. As she was working her way through business plans and mapping out start-up costs, tragedy struck. She lost her 18-year-old son unexpectedly and found herself deeply grieving, while also pregnant — all during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She took a furlough from her job and focused on healing herself and her family. Eventually — buoyed by the joy of a new baby in May 2020 — she rededicated herself to her journey of owning her own early childhood education center.

As she earned her master’s degree and took small business classes, Jenkins learned about First Children’s Finance, a local CDFI that focuses on building the supply and business sustainability of child care, particularly in communities of color and rural neighborhoods. First Children’s Finance selected her as the first recipient of their new grant from Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund.

She received a $40,000 microloan to support building improvements, furniture, classroom equipment, insurance, and working capital, and a $20,000 forgivable loan to address some of the upfront costs to open the business, such as permits and health and safety measures. In addition to providing low-cost capital, the CDFI has provided Jenkins with critical business assistance and one-on-one coaching throughout her journey. Now they are helping her find new space for the learning center because the original location needed costly upgrades to meet licensing requirements.

“I am passionate about supporting families who may not be able to afford high-quality child care, as I have been for more than 20 years.” — Tonya Jenkins

“I learned it’s very important to plan for years, so you know how much you really need to operate and then look closely at the market,” said Jenkins. “The pandemic completely changed my initial market analysis and what I would need to open, and it’s reshaping a lot of the policy development and procedures I am building into my business.”

Now, Jenkins is in the final stages of making her dream a reality. She is looking at opportunities to create up to 87 child care openings and several jobs in a diverse area of the community, where her center can serve families hard-hit by COVID-19.

“I am passionate about supporting families who may not be able to afford high-quality child care, as I have been for more than 20 years,” Jenkins said. “So I am definitely committed to making this happen.”

A woman smiles in front of a window as she holds a sign that says: Come in. We’re open. Next to her a red box with white font says: Helping entrepreneurs stay ‘Open for Business.’

If you are a small business owner seeking support, visit the Small Business Resource Center or explore this list of Open for Business Fund (PDF) grant recipients to find nonprofits helping small businesses.

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