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Ngoc Ho graduated from the University of Houston in spring 2020, as COVID-19 forced many students and small children to end classroom learning and stay home.
Ho, 29, was unsure about her job prospects coming out of school. She came to Houston after emigrating from Vietnam around six years ago.
“After I graduated in the pandemic time, I didn’t know what to do,” Ho said.
When a friend told her about a free child care entrepreneurship program, she decided to enroll.
The program started with teaching participants how to run a business, then moved into child development before the age of 5. It helped Ho get her business application approved through the state, which was made more complicated because of COVID-19.
So, less than a year after graduating from the university, she was running her own child care business: Dino Land Academy.
Many women left the workforce after day care centers and schools closed or went remote because of the pandemic, exacerbating strains on access to affordable child care.
The Joe Biden administration said 1.8 million women remain out of the labor force.
Ho is one of the dozens of people who’ve gone through the child care entrepreneurship program from refugee organization the Alliance, which was limited to refugees when it began. However, $260,000 in grant funding from the city of Houston enabled the program to open up to other immigrants and Houston residents.
More than 70 Houston child care businesses have been started through the program, the majority by refugee and immigrant women, according to Earlene Leverett, who runs the program.
She said that in addition to helping women start their own businesses, the program adds affordable child care in underserved communities so other moms can get back to work as well.
“That is one of the things that prevented many of the refugee families from going into the community and into the workforce, were the small children at home,” Leverett said.
An analysis by the think tank Third Way also found that many parents are still not working, with thousands of child care facilities closed.
Ngoc Ho said speaking both English and Vietnamese is a huge plus for her clientele. A lot of her students haven’t been to child care before, in some cases because Vietnamese-speaking parents didn’t feel comfortable putting them in an English-only setting.
To accommodate demand for the specialized child care she offers, just six months later she’s looking to expand her business and accept more kids into her preschool.
“I help them in English, so they can have enough of the language to go to kindergarten to understand what the teacher says or if they want to say something to the teacher,” Ho said. “And I can help them, too, with Vietnamese because most of them speak Vietnamese.”
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