The Garden Schoolhouse

We will provide care and education for young children and employment for their parents to benefit the financial well-being of the family.

Photo of Audrey Smith
3 10

Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Virginia, Chesterfield, 23234

Focus Areas (required)

  • Children & Youth
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Health & Fitness
  • Human Rights & Equality
  • Peace & Harmonious Relations

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)


  • $250k - $500k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

LinkedIn URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

Students were engaged everywhere-projects on tables and floors. Then a blonde streak of light entered our doorway --our heads spun from hall door to courtyard door as hands held fast to projects. In ran Ella. I am uncertain if I actually saw her as she ran and laughed and ran some more for nearly two hours! That day, Ella was two-years-old. Ella, in the form of constant butterfly, fluttering light, joined us every other week in March 2017. Her body, still unwilling to embrace a moment of calm, somersaulted through morning gathering and tornadoed through peaceful, quiet time. Today, Ella is almost five and loves to write, conduct classroom conversations, and is a gracious walker! Her story is our story of growth and potential.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Our community provides prekindergarten for 20% of children in our county, and 42% of children three years old are not enrolled in preschool. Research highlights the toll poverty takes on families and children, in terms of health, brain and language development, and future success in school and life. Many families cannot afford the cost of child care, and as a result their children may not thrive in kindergartern, school, or life.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

The Garden Schoolhouse, a child development center, will open in Fall 2018 for families who do not have children enrolled in preschool. Early childhood education is between ages of 0 to 8 years old, and much cognitive, emotional and social development occurs during this time. Research demonstrates children who are engaged in rich educational environments with caring adults are ready for school, read on grade level and show more resilience when faced with adverse childhood experiences. We have been in business for four years with a different model. For the future, our idea is to hire and coach parents from emerging communities. Virginia provides scholarships up to an associate's degree for employees of child development centers, such as ours. This new approach is three-pronged: 1) Become a pilot program for Head Start; 2) Seek out unemployed or underemployed parents with children ages three through kindergarten; 3) Employ, direct, mentor, and coach them while they earn an associate's degree or a certification in early childhood education; 4) Model for parents the language, habits of mind, and nurturing environments that promote optimal growth for children and families

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

One cold February day I saw an older gentleman and a young girl in the playground. I invited them into the warmth of the school, and they visited for most of the afternoon. The granddaughter lived in a house across the street Her stay-at-home mom was tentative and shy at our first visit barely opening the door. Both mom and dad had poor memories of school and dreaded sending their daughter to kindergarten the next year. I soon learned mom did not trust others easily although we had offered a scholarship to her child. A friend with social services vetted us, and the family agreed to enroll. The daughter's academics improved during the year, and her focus, emotional and social development continues to grow. Now we want to employ mom part-time to help her well-being and improve the finances of her family.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

We reach families who live from paycheck to paycheck. An October 2017 report from our county states: "Several important trends indicate that in next 20 to 30 years, financial insecurity will have an increasing effect on Chesterfield County. Wages are lower and growing slower when compared to the region and Virginia. Many find costs are growing faster than incomes. We have witnessed a 64% increase in citizens living in poverty since 2000 with projections of 40,000 in poverty in 20-30 years".

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • ability
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • age - youth
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Many for-profit and nonprofit companies and employers provide child care to residents along with family engagement. Our approach differs in that we intend to hire, train, and mentor parents whose children attend our child development center.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We opened our doors on Tuesday, September 2, 2014 with two girls, and have served a total of 21 girls. Over 200 donors invest in our school because of their love of children and desire for equity in education. Forty-two volunteers worked with children as reading buddy, speaker, math tutor, or helping with events. We have engaged with 80 immediate and extended family members of our students. Students like Ella have left us better prepared for kindergarten and for life with habits of mind that last a lifetime including persistence, listening with empathy and understanding, having fun figuring out problems, finding humor, and living in wonder and awe.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

We are talking with Smart Beginnings which places children in low-income families into private child development centers when public schools do not have capacity. We are talking with a university about the possibility of a pilot program to reach more children from emerging communities. We are talking with elected officials about investing in children in our community through Community Development Block Grant and Neighborhood Assistance Programs.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Industry Standards (labels, certification, awards, etc.)

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Our first plan is for staff to continue to invest their time, resources and love into children. Then we must find investors and donors who recognize inequity in education begins at birth and who have the interest, ability and passion to join us in our work to create nurturing, playful, peaceful environment where families who have suffered trauma can learn to trust themselves, learn skills and become the first and best educator for their children.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Our team consists of full-time educators with bachelor's or master's degrees, board members, and St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. As the project grows, we will add team members with the same passion for learning, for all children, and all people. Right now we have one person in leadership/management, and will need to add one more for next year. As former middle school teachers, we have invited former students now in high school or college to join us part-time and enroll in free college courses.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 33.3%

Clarity of Writing - 33.3%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 66.7%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 66.7%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 0%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 100%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 50%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 50%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 50%

Potential to scale - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anna

This is such a beautiful idea! Engaging parents in their children's place of education is so important. Your passion is really evident in the entry. We would like to understand better what kinds of roles parents would have at the school. Love the garden theme!

Photo of Audrey Smith

Parents would have an opportunity to perform clerical duties in the office, serve as assistant teachers in the classroom (including outdoor classroom) if they have experience in early childhood programs or are willing to take advantage of college course at no cost to them. Once they receive certification or an associate's degree, and based on their experience, they can apply to become a leader teacher or assistant center director or director.

Photo of Brittany Corner

Great Work to help and heal!