Entrepreneur opens child care centers in underserved communities

Jamese Couch is proof that following your dreams and working hard really pays off. She recently opened up her second learning academy in the Memphis area, this time in Frayser at 3458 North Watkins Street and is in the process of completing renovations there.

Couch opened her first child care center, Fundamentals 1st Learning Academy, in Orange Mound at 2904 Lamar Avenue several years ago and has grown it to 98 children since then.

“In both Frayser and Orange Mound, there is a need for those children to be educated because for whatever reason I feel that they don’t get some of the same opportunities and they aren’t introduced to some of things children are introduced to in other areas of the city,” said Couch, owner and director of the centers and certified child care provider.

The new center is named Lion and Lioness Learning Academy. Couch purchased the property last year from the previous occupant.

She plans to make repairs to the two buildings, which total more than 4,300 square feet, as well as remove tree stumps and paint. Inside, floors need to be stripped and new walls will be installed to create a new classroom layout similar to the 4,100-square-foot Fundamentals 1st in Orange Mound.

Children at the two centers range from six weeks to 12 years old. Before and after care is available for school-aged children, while many of the children under 5 stay at the center all day.

“These are not centers where they are just being babysat. They are getting challenged every day and being prepared for kindergarten once they’re ready to start school,” explained Couch. “We have a structured curriculum that they follow daily and they have homework, which helps to get the parents involved.”

The centers also provide transportation to and from school for the students.

“I felt the need to open centers where the pricing wouldn’t be so expensive where parents couldn’t survive because they had to pay for childcare,” said Couch.

Couch employs 13 child care providers at the Lamar location and has hired five people so far for the new academy, which already provides care for 30 children.

Her next goal is to form a nonprofit that assists teenagers before potentially opening a third early childhood facility in a different part of the city.

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Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.