This fall, we celebrate with Thania Centeno as she realizes her dream in starting a childcare center – Mis Primeros Pasos (Spanish for “My First Steps”). For a long time, Thania knew she wanted to work with children. In recent years, she gained experience working in various childcare and educational settings. Through hard work and dedication, she graduated in 2021 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Maine at Machias, while being a mother of two beautiful girls.
She supplemented her practical experience working with families by completing coursework in social and emotional skill development and trauma-informed practices. It gives Thania much joy watching her own daughters and other children grow and become individuals.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you settled in Maine.
My parents are originally from Mexico and Honduras and worked as migrant farmworkers. They settled down in Downeast Maine, where they opened a small local store in Harrington where they sold Hispanic products and a small eat-in restaurant with Mexican and Honduran food.
I grew up in Harrington and attended Harrington Elementary School and Narraguagus Jr/Sr High School. After graduating in 2013, I took a few years away from school before attending college. I worked in agriculture and moved around to different states.
In 2014, I had my first child, a beautiful daughter, and married my husband. Now with a little one, we decided we needed to settle down, so we returned to Maine where my sister lived at the time and we had family and friends. I had never been outside of Maine for so long and I missed my hometown.
Here in Maine, my husband and I both found jobs and I had the opportunity to go to college. I continued to work full time and take college courses. In 2020, I welcomed another beautiful baby girl.
In my free time I like to spend time with my husband and daughters. We go on walks and play outdoors and take advantage of the local beaches and lakes. I also enjoy drawing and doing arts and crafts.
What will Mis Primeros Pasos offer?
Mis Primeros Pasos My First Steps, LLC will provide quality, affordable, and bilingual childcare services to 20 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old in the Ellsworth, Maine community. We will focus on a nature-inspired, bilingual curriculum. There will be outdoor spaces that include art, blocks/construction, music, reading, water and sand sensory areas, as well as a small trail near the building for nature walks.
Mis Primeros Pasos will be housed in the Families First Community Center (FFCC), a non-profit transitional housing facility working to break the cycle of homelessness for families with children in Hancock County. Children living in the Families First Community Center will be enrolled in Mis Primeros Pasos as a priority, but there will be several public spaces open after for children from the broader Ellsworth community. The center will be open from 7:00 am-5:30 pm.
Through curriculum and food, children will learn about diversity and other cultures. Children will develop respect and appreciation for nature, social awareness, culture, and diversity within their community. Mis Primeros Pasos My First Steps, LLC will help them to develop a deep, loving connection with the world that they will one day lead.
What resources/people/information have been most helpful in your entrepreneurial journey.
I am very grateful to have a team of supporters throughout this whole process! The CEI’s Women’s Business Center and the Child Care Business Lab has been so helpful in this whole process. Ruth, my business advisor, and Cynthia, of the Child Care Business Lab, have really been there to provide advice and feedback and that has helped me with starting up the business.
What are the biggest challenges in the process?
My biggest challenge has been juggling work-life, family life, and trying to start up a business. There are many steps you need to take before you can open a business. Sometimes it can feel like things are moving slow but taking things one at a time will help make sure you are checking all the boxes to be fully prepared for a business.
How would you describe the Hispanic communities in Maine?
I am proud to be a Hispanic American. I love learning about other cultures, and I love teaching about my own. I feel like our Hispanic communities [in Maine] are close-knit and hard workers. We try to support each other when we can, and we love to see each other succeed. We feel very strongly of our tradition and culture, and we love to share these traditions through celebrations, food, and events.
What word of advice do you have for other women who want to start their own business?
Some tips I would share: surround yourself with positive and encouraging family or friends. When you have those around you who support you and believe in what you can do, it gives you that confidence you need to push yourself to believe you can do whatever you put your mind to.
I would also say know your worth. Learn to tell yourself “I am worth it” and I know I am providing a much needed service while doing something I love. But remember you also need to make a living and provide for family. Believe in yourself! I know it might be scary sometimes but don’t give up and believe that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.
Finally, networking with your neighbors. I think it’s important to connect with others and get advice from them.
LOOKING TO IMPROVE YOUR BUSINESS KNOW-HOW?
CEI offers a wide range of assistance to emerging and existing business owners. Through one-on-one consultation, training, workshops, seminars, peer networks and other services, CEI helps individuals across the state get the information they need to start or expand their business. In addition to providing general business assistance, CEI has programs for women; marine-related businesses; farms; ag and food businesses; and refugees and immigrants.
Check out the full range of CEIs Business Advising offerings at https://www.ceimaine.org/advising