WEST TOWN — Opening her own day care has always been Doyin Ajilore’s dream.
Ajilore was ready to open this spring when the pandemic hit, nearly causing her to lose her business before she could even get it off the ground. But now, Dreamers Academy is finally opening at 1824 W. Grand Ave. on July 6.
A lifelong educator and children’s caregiver, Ajilore has worked to open Dreamers Academy since 2017.
Ajilore was ready to open in March until COVID-19 pushed her timeline back several months.
Now that non-emergency day cares can reopen, Dreamers Academy will become a reality.
“My faith keeps me going,” Ajilore said. “I am stubborn. I don’t give up. I’m a fighter. I’ve been a go-getter all my life.”
‘I Love Children. So, I Started A Business’
Dreamers Academy is Ajilore’s first business, but she has spent about 15 years working in early childhood education.
Born in West Africa as the daughter of a diplomat, Ajilore has spent much of her life traveling. She worked as a nanny in England, at a day care in Paris and taught in India, Gabon and Nigeria.
She and her husband eventually landed in Chicago, where she worked in information technology.
Living in Chicago brought Ajilore closer to her teenage cousin, who was battling childhood leukemia. One day the cousins were talking about dreams and the “fight to survive,” she said.
“He asked me what I always wanted to do,” Ajilore said. “At the time we had just welcomed home my daughter. … I love children. So, I started a business.”
Her cousin came up with the name and Ajilore registered her company in 2017. Just a few months into their “passion project,” however, Ajilore’s cousin died. She kept going with the business idea and signed a lease in December 2018.
“That kind of became my driving force,” she said.
A portion of Dreamers Academy revenues will fund leukemia research.
“It’s not just a money-making venture for me, I want to help the community, partner [with local businesses],” she said. “I’m huge on community involvement.”
‘I Opened This Business To Make A Difference’
After settling on a location, Ajilore spent more than a year gutting and rebuilding the storefront, vetting and hiring staff per state regulations and getting permits.
By spring, Ajilore was finally ready to open Dreamers Academy, pending final state inspections.
Then came COVID-19. Like many industries, non-emergency day cares were considered “non-essential” and ordered by Gov. JB Pritzker to close.
The timing put Ajilore in a particularly precarious position.
Because Ajilore was not yet permitted, she was not an operating business; therefore, she did not qualify for city, state or federal emergency aid or loan programs.
Ajilore relied on loans from friends and family, as well as a bank loan, to cover her monthly operating costs, which were in the tens of thousands. Her landlord was willing to defer rent for a few months, she said.
Despite having no income and no emergency loan or grant money, Ajilore continued to pay her newly hired staff. If she didn’t, she risked losing them and having to restart the complicated process of vetting child care workers.
Ironically, Ajilore’s staggering financial challenges were coupled by huge demand; before the pandemic, Ajilore had an anticipated waitlist of more than 50 families.
During the pandemic, Ajilore participated in West Town photographer Candice Cusic’s Save Local portrait series, in which Cusic interviewed and photographed struggling businesses owners in the neighborhood.
“I opened this business to make a difference in my community, empower women and donate to childhood leukemia research,” Ajilore told Cusic. “Right now I am truly overwhelmed. … The uncertainty of this virus is affecting the future of my business that I have put so much work into.”
In June, some good news arrived.
Though Pritzker initially slated non-emergency day cares to reopen in Phase 4, he changed his policy to allow businesses like Dreamers Academy to reopen in Phase 3.
Pritzker’s decision pushed up Ajilore’s timeline and allowed her to finish her inspections. With her permit finally in hand, the wait to open Dreamers Academy is over.
“I made it through covid and hopefully I’ll grow and have a full house before the end of the year,” Ajilore said.
Programs are offered for infants, toddlers and children ages 3-4. Half-day and full-day options for toddlers and preschool are included.
In-person tours will be conducted through Thursday. Rolling enrollment will be based on demand. To schedule a tour or to learn more, go to Dreamers Academy online.
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