Most stories about small businesses focus on how the business was launched. Self-Help member Toiya Hancock’s story is not just about starting her business, but how she has maintained it during hard times while also juggling roles as a parent and community volunteer. Toiya opened an educational service during a national recession and persisted through a global pandemic. Through it all, she has provided services for about 450 young students in Greensboro, NC and surrounding cities.
Toiya is the sole proprietor of Triad Education Development LLC, doing business as Kumon of Greensboro-Northwest. Kumon of Greensboro-Northwest offers a year-round reading and math curriculum for students of all ages and academic levels. The program, based on the well-established Kumon Method, helps students learn independently with specifically crafted worksheets designed to be completed in short sessions.
The Kumon curriculum begins where students are comfortable, starting with worksheets they can master whether they are behind grade level or ahead. As the program progresses and worksheets become more challenging, they build skills and confidence that translate into academic success—sometimes in a spectacular way. For example, one of her current fourth graders is now doing pre-calculus.
Two of Toiya’s students working on their Kumon worksheets. (Note: This photo is pre-pandemic. After COVID became a concern, students sat at separate tables and were required to wear masks.)
Toiya recognizes that each of her students is unique. “I pride myself on the diversity of families that I serve in terms of race, ethnicity and income,” Toiya said. “I tell families that this program is for all students, of all ages and abilities."
Toiya says she has always wanted to help and teach. As a child, she loved visiting her grandmother’s house, where she used schoolbooks and a blackboard to teach imaginary students. Toiya is also an active volunteer, serving as the President of the Black Alumni of Guilford College, Incorporated.
Self-Help is honored to have been Toiya’s lending partner from the beginning. In 2008 when Toiya was planning to open her business in Northwest Greensboro, she came to us for a small business loan. Self-Help senior loan officer Jennifer Sherwin was impressed by Toiya’s foundational experience of eight years teaching in public schools and homeschooling her own two children through multiple grade levels. At that time, Toiya’s husband had full-time employment, so the Kumon business would provide a second income for the family. Self-Help approved the loan, and the business got off to a good start, serving students in the newly developed Shoppes at Brassfield Station in a 1,400-square-foot commercial space that Toiya rented.
Fast forward to 2020: When the pandemic struck, nearly all small businesses were hurt, including Toiya’s. She was forced to close her center and provide instruction strictly virtually for her students. Some families withdrew their children from the program, no longer able to afford tuition. As a result of the drop in enrollment, she suffered a financial loss of about $6,700 a month while still carrying the same overhead of staffing and rent for a space she couldn’t use for instruction.
Her personal family finances had shifted as well. Her husband, who was fully employed when she started the business and providing the family’s main source of income, suffered health changes and was unable to work.
Toiya says it was a stressful time. “My business supports my family. The landlord for my space was patient for a while, but after some months passed and the pandemic continued, he indicated I would need to give up the space. I was at a place where I needed help.”
Toiya called Self-Help’s Jennifer Sherwin, who remembered her right away. Fortunately, we had the perfect loan for her situation – our “Pivot Loan.” As the federal Paycheck Protection Program came to an end, we at Self-Help knew that small businesses would continue to face obstacles as the pandemic continued. Based on a staff-driven request, Self-Help committed funds to a COVID recovery loan for small businesses that we christened “Pivot Loans,” available in North Carolina and Illinois.
With the new loan, Toiya was able to catch up on the rent for her business and continue meeting expenses associated with virtual learning. She re-opened her learning center last July and now offers both in-person and virtual instruction. Today her business is continuing to grow and thrive.
Toiya’s business involves the entire family. Her husband helps out at Kumon weekly by pulling student worksheets, and over the years her son had both volunteered and been employed at Kumon. Her daughter is a Kumon student herself and spends time with her mom working at the center.
Toiya says that one of the most rewarding parts of her business is seeing her former students attend college and go on to start successful careers. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve my families and thankful I have the heart for it.”
She shares a few secrets of her success as an educator and small business owner:
- Form strong partnerships with parents. Not only do Toiya’s students receive orientation, their parents do, too, to ensure they understand how the program works and how they can best support their child.
- Harness the power of word-of-mouth. “I do zero marketing,” Toiya says, “My advertisements come from my families.”
- Celebrate small successes, both with students and with the business. Part of the Kumon method involves celebrating small academic successes with students, and Toiya does the same with her business. Every new student she can serve is a win.
Self-Help lending supports education in many ways, especially through the loans we make to charter schools that provide high quality education to students who are poorly served with existing options. Find out more.