Former office manager Milagros “Millie” Carbajal couldn’t find child care when she decided to go back to work after having children. So, a decade ago, she launched her own 24-hour day care service.
M&M 24HR Daycare, named after her two kids Madison and Mason, is in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the South Bronx. Since the onset of the pandemic, Carbajal was adamant that she would not close her doors so she can continue providing quality childcare for the most vulnerable families.
Today, Carbajal is proud to say she continues to help more than 1,500 children whose parents are essential workers in the Bronx. From sanitation workers to nurses and FedEx employees, these valuable workers seek to have the best care for their children and Carbajal is doing just that.
“We want to help our parents,” Carbajal told the Bronx Times. “I remember being so overwhelmed and working and coming home to my children tired.”
Carbajal, 41, raised in Brooklyn, has lived in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium for the past 11 years. At age 18, she began working in the hotel industry and did that for a decade. However, while pregnant with her second child, she began looking for child care. Carbajal worked 4 p.m.-midnight shifts, and as a single mom it was tough to find someone to watch her kids. Not being able to find a sitter, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“It looked like I couldn’t return to work,” she said. “My family was more than happy to help, but I didn’t want to put all that strain on them.”
After looking for child care for two year s, Carbajal decided not to return to work. But knowing she needed to provide for her family, she instead began doing research on starting a day care. She realized that many places only watched kids until 7 or 8 p.m. However, this is often an issue in particular for moms and days who work overnight as essential workers.
“I knew the demand that parents were looking for child care in non-traditional hours,” Carbajal said.
Carbajal found an apartment on Craigslist big enough to house a day care and spoke with the NYC Department of Health about the process. She was nervous, but ready to take a leap of faith. She educated herself on branding and marketing and did 120 hours of training with Angela Salas, of the nonprofit Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, who taught her how to make lesson plans and interact with families.
Since she didn’t attend business school, Carbajal had to learn everything on the fly.
“It was very difficult,” she said. “When I finally got approved, I thought kids would be swimming in.”
Not only were things challenging, but she did not want people to know she was running a day care. In her mind, she always envisioned being in the hotel industry. She couldn’t afford staff, so at first Carbajal had to do everything. The first couple years business was slow, and her mom, Gladys Vilela, would ask why she was doing this. To stay afloat, she sold clothes and even dipped into her 401 (k).
“I really didn’t want to close my business down,” she said.
But eventually, M&M 24HR Daycare slowly began to garner a reputation, and by the fourth year was at capacity with a waitlist overflowing. The business receives funding from the NYC Department of Education and is licensed by the Health Department.
Today, she has two locations at 1027 Walton Ave., one at 294 E. 162 St.,and a fourth day care coming to 733 E. 236 St. Children are there during the day, after school and some even stay overnight.
But everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Day cares citywide were forced to shutter from April 2020 to July 2020, leaving her in dire straits.
“Initially when COVID hit we weren’t sure what would happen with our funding,” said Carbajal, the first person in her family to own a business. “I didn’t know if the DOE would keep helping. I was devastated.”
She was forced to let go of some staff and even when the city permitted her to reopen, she was scared about her future. But she persevered, gained new clients and also received a financial boost from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation NYC, which gave her a $10,000 grant that helped her pay her rent, basic necessities and day-to-day bills to provide for her family.
“I would rather do my own long hours than work for someone else,” she said. “It feels like I was put on this earth to help children.”
Reach Jason Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.