Building Community and Opportunity: The Impact of La Plazita Preschool on Oakland and San Leandro
La Plazita Preschool is not just an ordinary early childhood Spanish-immersion preschool– it’s a beacon of hope and a catalyst for change in the Oakland and San Leandro communities. Founded by Krystell Guzman and Lupe Lopez, La Plazita’s mission is to provide a solid linguistic, cognitive, and socio-emotional foundation for children while fostering a supportive environment for creative expression. But La Plazita’s impact goes far beyond the classroom, as it also creates meaningful job opportunities for immigrant women in the Bay Area.
“La Plazita preschool is more than just a school: it is a mission that keeps on giving to the communities in which we live and work, and we thank each and every one of you for being partners with us in this mission. It takes a village to raise a child, and this La Plazita village has done much more than just raise children. We are actively building community and opportunities!” said Krystell Guzman.
Krystell Guzman’s journey in building La Plazita has been marked by resilience, determination, and a deep commitment to her community. Recognizing the importance of preserving her middle daughter’s native language while preparing her for kindergarten, Krystell embarked on a mission to create a truly immersive Spanish-language preschool. Starting small, with just her own children and one enrolled student, Krystell learned valuable lessons about what works best for children, leading to the birth of La Plazita in 2011.
However, for Krystell and Lupe, their mission went beyond providing quality education. As immigrants themselves, they understood the challenges faced by other recently arrived immigrants in finding meaningful employment. They aimed to empower immigrant women by creating opportunities for them to develop careers in early childhood education. La Plazita became a testament to hard work, dedication, and love for the community they served.
Krystell Guzman Joins PCV’s Inaugural Good Jobs Entrepreneurs Fellowship
In April 2023, Krystell was selected as a PCV Good Jobs Entrepreneur Fellow, joining a cohort of 14 exceptional PCV clients dedicated to providing their employees with high-quality jobs that promote racial and gender wealth-building outcomes. Krystell will have the chance to learn new strategies for promoting racial and gender wealth-building, and to share her own insights and successes with her colleagues. By working together and supporting one another, the fellows will be able to create a ripple effect of positive change in their communities and beyond. Krystell’s participation in this program is not only a recognition of her hard work and dedication, but also a testament to the impact that one individual can have when they are committed to creating a more equitable and just society.
Krystell shares, “We are thrilled to be part of the Good Jobs Fellows Entrepreneur program. At La Plazita, our mission is to provide meaningful employment opportunities to immigrants in the Bay Area, with a particular focus on Oakland and San Leandro. For several years, we have been working tirelessly towards this goal. It has not been without its challenges, particularly in a region with high inflation rates like the Bay Area. We are constantly searching for new and innovative ways to create sustainable jobs and careers for our community.”
Overcoming Challenges and Rebuilding Stronger
Initially, La Plazita operated using only cash and a microloan from Main Street Launch, supported by the Small Business Administration (SBA), and other resources. Nevertheless, with the overhead costs of managing a successful program, extra funding was essential. To start, the initial SBA funds and supplemental cash was put toward purchasing a building. However, with the emergence of COVID-19 and mandated closures, the building ended up being utilized as a storage area instead of being transformed with architecture updates and zoning as planned. During the 2020-2021 year, parents were forced to keep their children at home due to the pandemic, resulting in a significant decline of enrollment at La Plazita to 10%, causing them to close for two months. When it reopened, only 5% of their children returned. The La Plazita team worked diligently to develop solutions. The team pivoted to available centers and buildings to use for the current enrollment as well as partnered with the local workforce to provide childcare for essential workers and their families.
In November 2021, PCV launched the Oakland Restorative Loan Fund which provided $2.5 million in no-fee, zero-interest loans to small businesses in low to moderate income neighborhoods. Krystell was an Oakland Restorative Loan Fund client and used it to stabilize La Plazita, including maintaining and retaining staff and moving forward with new projects.
Due to the 0% interest loan provided by PCV, La Plazita has been able to continue to increase enrollment despite these declining times and stay on course to reaching the benchmark of near pre-pandemic enrollment of 90%. Krystell stated, “One thing we’re super grateful for is that PCV listened to their customers and their clients that we were desperate for money during the height of COVID-19 and came out with a no interest loan. The 0% interest loan kept me from pulling money out of my personal savings for payroll. PCV showed up with this $100k and saved my life at that moment”. The center currently runs four facilities in Oakland and San Leandro, supporting over 200 children and creating 50 Good Jobs and careers, including some of PCV’s own Oakland-based staff as clients! “We started a company that creates jobs in our community which is something that is more important to us than almost the work that we do because we’re able to create careers for immigrant women that otherwise had very little possibilities or opportunities in this country. So we really feel like we’re living our dream. Like our goals and dreams are real and we are living it,” expressed Krystell.
The Power of Business Advising
Throughout the journey of expanding La Plazita, Krystell has leaned on the guidance and expertise of PCV’s pro bono Business Advising program. In 2014, she was introduced to PCV’s pro bono Business Advising program through Main Street Launch, a Bay Area non-profit that assists small business owners. As PCV launched the business advising online platform, she was a part of the first group of business owners matched with an advisor and was partnered with Alina Ball, a University of California Hastings College of the Law professor, and a team of law students practicing corporate law. Through this initial partnership, which ended up lasting 5 incredible years, Krystell was able to successfully navigate corporate governance, trademarking, S-Corp business formation, and create a non-profit organization for their parent group to support student scholarships.
Krystell shared: “PCV appeared in our life cycle as a business when we were reaching maybe our third or fourth year of business and it was at a point in time where we had to graduate and grow as an entity and kind of understand our responsibilities as a corporation, not only to our employees, but for fiscal responsibility and everything else. As we started out in my house we had no idea about corporate governance, so when we found PCV and we were matched up with Alina Ball, it was such a godsend for us and it’s been tremendous in allowing us to do so many things.”
Since joining PCV’s advising program in 2014, Krystell has worked with three additional advisors, including Dian Emerson, Senior Director of Employee Relations at VMware, who provided guidance on operations, employee development, and recruiting. Thanks to the tools and support she received, Krystell was able to expand her business, providing more good jobs in the community – jobs that offer healthcare and retirement benefits to all employees.
The success of La Plazita is a testament to the power of working together and the impact of providing Good Jobs in the community. With the support of PCV and the team of dedicated advisors, Krystell was able to resolve La Plazita’s top challenges and continue her work in the Bay Area. In addition, our lending team was able to provide the tools and resources for Krystell that has prepared her team to explore additional financing through traditional institutions she was previously unable to secure due to licensing and other factors. The growth of La Plazita is a shining example of what can be achieved when locally owned businesses are supported and empowered in the communities they serve.