Dana Butler has been the owner and lead instructor at the Inspiring Minds Montessori Pre-School for the past 16 1/2 years. Over the years, Dana and her husband, John, who serves as the business manager for the school, helped educate hundreds of children from all over the world, but since the start of the global pandemic they’ve been on the verge of closing their doors.
“Because we’re a small business, of course, from a financial standpoint. It was very devastating just because we lost that income,” said John, as he discussed closing the school for two and a half months at the start of the pandemic in March.
Dana and John decided not to charge families their usual monthly tuition fees while the school was temporarily closed.
“The parents sign a contract with us that they’ll support us under normal circumstances and pay the tuition each month, but from a moral standpoint we didn’t want to ask them to do that,” said John.
Dana said their business was immediately affected, because parents didn’t want to pay for childcare if they were working from home.
“From day one, daycare kind of started suffering, because if parents don’t work, we don’t work,” she said.
As their bills piled up, their income remained the same. Dana and John were considering closing the school for good. That’s when they received a message from an email listserv for small business owners in Athens.
That opportunity was the Athens Joint Development Authority (JDA) Emergency Grant and Loan Program. The JDA supports businesses in industry, commerce and agriculture, and this particular program helps small businesses in Athens-Clarke County and Winterville who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have the Joint Development Authority…provide emergency funding for businesses that can use some dollars to help them stay afloat, so they don’t have to go out of business,” said David Matthews-Morgan, chair of the JDA.
The Inspiring Minds Montessori Pre-School was awarded a $1,965 grant from the JDA during their first round of applications. This emergency grant was funded through the federal CARES Act and was then distributed on a state and county level.
Matthews-Morgan said the county gave the JDA $1.6 million dollars for emergency grants, and there was more money available after the first round of applications to have a second one. The second round of applications closed on Oct. 27, but the JDA is looking to use more leftover funds in 2021 for businesses who are still experiencing the financial impact of COVID-19.
According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, an average of 30.2% small business owners across America have said COVID-19 has had a “largely negative effect” on their business.
UGA financial planning professor Michael Thomas said the financial shock of COVID-19 will have a long-term effect on small businesses in Athens especially those who have yet to receive government assistance.
The Inspiring Minds Montessori Pre-School has now reopened, but Dana said there’s a new financial burden: the cost of sanitary procedures.
“The things that we had to go through with just disinfecting the classrooms, the gloves and the extra cleaning supplies…that takes a financial toll, and it just has a trickle effect,” she said.
John described the emergency grant as a blessing, but the school is still struggling to recover from their initial losses.
Thomas’ greatest piece of advice for small businesses and households that are working to financially recover from COVID-19 is to have grace for themselves, because most Americans are currently experiencing financial stress.
Kelsey Coffey is a fourth-year majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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