Dailela Williams, Co-owner and Director of Future Leaders Learning Center
Dailela Williams Directs Future Leaders Learning Center in Oak Park, Illinois. She co-owns the center with her mother, and has been at the Oak Park location since 2016. In 2020, Future Leaders Learning Center operated as an emergency child care site to serve the children of essential workers. The Collaboration caught Dailela for a moment over Zoom to hear more about her story. Read her interview below.
Collab: What are three words that best describe you?
Dailela: Ambitious, diligent, and flexible.
Collab: What drives you?
Dailela: My kids. I love them. Both my own, and the ones I take care of here. My biological kids are the forces that drive me. I have a 21 year old and a 7 year old.
Collab: Tell us about your career journey. How did you become the Director of Future Leaders Learning Center?
Dailela: That is an excellent question! I was a young mom when I had my first son. I had him at 18 when I was just starting college. Just trying to find child care during that time, trying to find someone I could trust to take care of him while I was at school was a journey for me. I say my kids are the force in my life that drive me because back then, I knew that I needed to finish school for my son. That was what motivated me. At my school, I saw that it wasn’t just me that needed assistance. So I started a program that helped other mothers called the Black Association of Parenting Students at my school. It was a network where we could take turns babysitting each other’s kids so we could get our research papers done or things like that. During this time, I was doing research and wasn’t satisfied or feeling comfortable with the child care facilities that I saw. This prompted me to change my focus in school. I was initially going to go into secondary education. I majored in history, but minored in early childhood so I could be flexible. At the same time, back in 2003, my mom opened an early childhood center. My mom said, “why don’t we go into business together? You have the knowledge, you have what it takes.” Collectively, we did what we had to do and we’ve been here at our Oak Park location since 2016.
“At my school, I saw that it wasn’t just me that needed [child care] assistance. So I started a program that helped other mothers called the Black Association of Parenting Students at my school. It was a network where we could take turns babysitting each other’s kids so we could get our research papers done or things like that.”
Collab: Tell us about Oak Park, and what it means to you.
Dailela: Oak Park has been awesome. It’s been very supportive. With the support that we have here, that helps us keep going. Oak Park has been a wealth of help and support. I grew up in Chicago. We found ourselves in Oak Park because we purchased this facility. It used to be Creative Children, but when we heard the owner was selling, we reached out. We thought, “Oak Park will be a great area to start our own center together.” Once we moved in, the Collaboration reached out to me. I didn’t even know you existed! You guys said hey, you’re new, do you want to join our child care provider meetings? And I joined and I’ve found it very informative. It’s a great thing to be a part of here in Oak Park.
Collab: If you were talking to someone who is not familiar with caring for kids, what would you say to them?
Dailela: There’s going to be good and bad days. Don’t expect to predict your day because you never know. Just be ready to deal with and accept anything that may come your way. But it’s very rewarding; both the pros and the cons! Just seeing a child’s face light up can change your day. Be mindful that kids feel your energy. Go in there in a way that you aren’t transferring negative energy on to them. Put your best foot forward. Child care can be very rewarding but also unpredictable.
“Just seeing a child’s face light up can change your day. Be mindful that kids feel your energy. Go in there in a way that you aren’t transferring negative energy on to them. Put your best foot forward. Child care can be very rewarding but also unpredictable.”
Collab: What challenges have you overcome this past year…and in 2020.
Dailela: We never closed! We stayed open and operated as an emergency child care site. But the main challenges were not knowing what to expect, the fear of “the what if…” My mom being older and having her own health concerns was hard because every day we had to make the decision of should we be open? We don’t want to expose her, and my dad is older, too, there was a fear of taking something home to him. But we knew we had to render a service and survive. We sat down and revamped our policies and procedures that we had in place to keep us safe as well as the children coming in every day. It worked for us. But the first challenging situation was just the not-knowing. Not knowing what we were dealing with. But what I learned was that the procedures we already had in place weren’t anything different than what was required, so that was interesting. All the policies that DCFS has and the State guidelines; we were already implementing them.
Collab: You never closed…through all this uncertainty, you never closed. That’s amazing, and such an important service you were able to provide. Throughout this time, did you see a drop in enrollment?
Dailela: Yep, we never closed! We shut down for one week to get licensed as an emergency child care site, and that was it! And yes, there is still a drop in enrollment. We are still dealing with that. Enrollment had to drop tremendously due to state guidelines, you know, classroom sizes and all that, so that continues to be a challenge.
Collab: What are you looking forward to in 2021?
Dailela: I’m looking forward to growing! I’m rebranding our center as a whole right now. I’m thinking about how we can rebrand ourselves and market ourselves a little more to make sure families know that we are here and we are available and let them know that we are keeping children safe. We haven’t had any positive cases since this whole thing started. Just growing. And maybe expanding eventually!
Collab: Do you like what you do? It seems like you do, and that you are always looking for ways to grow.
Dailela: I LOVE what I do. I really do. It is so rewarding. I find myself getting energy from the kids. Some days, I don’t want to get out of bed. But then when I get here, that whole energy changes because you’ve got babies that want to be held, and that’s another thing. You can’t hold them like you once could because of the pandemic. So you have to find different, creative ways to show love and let them know that we still love them even though you have to lessen your hugs. But just seeing their smiles, and seeing them dance, that makes a world of difference to me. Because they don’t know there’s a pandemic going on! They have no clue! My goal is to keep them focused on playing. They’re young, they shouldn’t have to worry. They should just be kids. The older ones we do make them aware of what’s going on, but the babies, they shouldn’t have a care in the world.