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From stay-at-home mom to educational entrepreneur

Goddard SchoolIn 2002, first-time mom Leena Patel reluctantly put her daughter in daycare as she pursued a physical therapy degree. But over the next few semesters, her daughter kept getting sick. When she finally had to be admitted to the hospital, Leena put her education on hold and became a stay-at-home mom.

The decision was Leena’s pivotal first step toward becoming the educational entrepreneur she is today. She opened her first Goddard School in 2013 and now has franchise locations ­in York and Philadelphia, PA, and is preparing to break ground on a third in Lancaster.

Offerings at Goddard Schools can differ, but Leena’s locations provide daycare and educational services for children six weeks to six years old. “Not just babysitting, but prepares children for long term success in school and in life.” Leena explains. It’s an approach to childcare she became passionate about after the birth of her second child.

Although Leena returned to college briefly, she also returned to being a stay-at-home mom when her son was born. She was committed to keeping her kids out of daycare but kept hearing glowing reports about Goddard Schools from extended family.

Becoming a Goddard franchisee

After researching Goddard on her own, Leena realized she wanted the same for her kids. Unfortunately, there weren’t any schools in her area. She started asking herself, “Why couldn’t I open a Goddard School?” By the time her third child was born in 2009, Leena answered her own question and was on her way to becoming a Goddard School franchisee.

She opened her York location in 2013. It took a couple of years, but once parents understood Goddard’s educational approach, they embraced it. The location grew quickly, and today has 150+ students, 30+ teachers, and recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary.

In 2019, as the York location was still growing, Leena learned about an opportunity in Philadelphia. She wasn’t looking for a second franchise, but she did her due diligence, saw the need for a high quality early childhood education center, and went for it.

Building a school and a banking relationship

The site was an old building that needed extensive renovations, and in early 2020 Leena needed a lender to finance them. Because Customers Bank had been helping other franchisees access PPP loans, it was one of three lenders Goddard recommended.

Pleased with the rates and impressed with Lisa Kennedy, Customer Bank’s VP Government Guaranteed Lending, Leena chose Customers Bank and says she “could not be happier.” Compared to her SBA loan experience in York, Leena explains that “Customers Bank streamlined the process and took some of the headaches out of it.”

Perhaps the worst of those headaches were renovation cost overruns that sent Leena back to the bank for more money. While SBA loans typically have a contingency for construction overruns, Leena wound up needing more than other lenders would have been comfortable with.

Leena expected further headaches, but Lisa got the requested additional contingency approved quickly. In part, Lisa attributes the fast approval and smooth closing process to Leena being “very detail-oriented and extremely involved in her project. When clients are prepared and working closely with their lender, general contractor and vendors it makes for a successful project.”

Pushed by parental demand, Leena’s Philadelphia Goddard School location opened in December 2021. The pandemic surge in winter 2022 slowed enrollment, but today, the school has 115 students and 30 teachers.

Putting plans in place for school #3

With the Philadelphia location still growing, Leena and her business partner are planning a third Goddard School in Pennsylvania. It’s still in the design phase, but Lisa is already making it easier for Leena to secure funding by leveraging recent SBA rule changes.

Leena says it’s just another one of many reasons she’s happy to recommend the bank to other Goddard franchisees: “If you want a smooth transaction lender who knows what they’re doing, go with Customers Bank.”

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