Turning Necessity into Creative Opportunity
Joan Wenk is one of those individuals who, even while on vacation, will create a laundry list of items to complete upon returning to work. “I work 10-12 hours a day. I can’t stop to sit.”
In the late 1960's, devoted wife and mother Wenk (M.S. ’89) was suddenly faced with becoming the main breadwinner in the family. She decided to start a day-care center, a novel concept for both entrepreneurs and women at the time. Without assistance from the government, she obtained a small loan from her father. Maple Heights Daycare opened for business, with only her children and her lifelong friend’s (who still works at the center) as clients.
As word of mouth quickly spread, at the end of the first year, 33 children were enrolled. Wenk would even transport the students to and from the daycare center, offering a personalized service that most businesses did not. To this day, the Maple Heights location still offers bus transportation.
Her next step was to supplement her education. At Nova, Wenk found that “it clarified what we were trying to do. My business needed focus and a strategic plan. Nova taught me how to evaluate my programs and understand other people’s plights.”
Today, Maple Heights Daycare is now known as Creative Playrooms Montessori & Child Care Centers, serving approximately 1,200 children at seven locations around the Cleveland area. The centers offer swimming, foreign language, dancing, and many other activities.
However, Wenk is most proud of their at-risk center, which teaches children “the most basic skills, like reading and counting money; but the most important part is that they are fed and they are safe. We teach them persistence and to believe in themselves.”
Perhaps the most telling factor of Wenk’s career success is not how many children she has served, or how many locations she has opened, but in the legacies she is building. “The children we served in our early years are now bringing their children to our centers.” Further, with several members of her staff having worked with Wenk for over 30 years, Creative Playrooms is considered her extended family.
The future looks bright for Wenk. As her next area of focus, she hopes to create scholarships for the children served at her centers. “My goal is to keep children engaged in education. Everyone deserves an opportunity, regardless of their socioeconomic status.”
Wenk still finds joy in what she does, every day. “I am still learning. Working with children is always and experience, because each one is so different.” She tells Nova students “whatever you do, put your heart into it. Find your passion, and then work as hard as you can towards it.”