- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Kerri Chase, a lawyer and mother of two girls, had a novel idea: What if all the errands she and hordes of other parents had to do after work were completed when she picked up her children from day care?

The idea is now a half-million-dollar business venture with Mrs. Chase, 34, at its helm.

On Monday, Bright Start Learning Center, a child care center for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years, opened in Alexandria’s Cameron Station community.

Starting March 1, parents who take their children to Bright Start will have access to a concierge service offering ready-to-serve meals, dry cleaning, medical prescription pickups, and day care.

Such luxuries are the latest trend in child care, according to Pearl Waxman, a board member of the Northern Virginia Association for the Education of Young Children and an adjunct professor in early childhood at Northern Virginia Community College.

Mrs. Chase scaled back her law practice with Cleary Gottlieb to run the center, which she is paying for with her own money and loans.

“The idea was if we could ease the burden on the day-to-day things that have to be done, [parents] could have more quality time in the evening with their children,” she said.

The services are provided at a cost above the child care rates, which some parents said are slightly higher than the average.

Full-time service costs $325 per week for infants and $275 per week for children ages 2 to 5. The center also has two- and three-day service that is prorated and a half-day drop-in service for $40. The concierge service costs extra.

Mrs. Chase said she has an agreement with Jeffery’s Cafe & Catering in Alexandria to offer a daily menu of entrees parents can order when they drop off their children. They then pick up the meals along with their children at the end of the workday.

Mrs. Chase said she is in negotiations with dry-cleaning businesses, in the hope of allowing parents to drop off laundry, along with their children, and the dinner order.

The center will not have an agreement with any particular pharmacy, she said.

Business owners said they were eager to be a part of the venture.

“It’s an avenue worth exploring,” said Jeffery Hensley, owner of Jeffery’s Cafe & Catering, which also is making the children’s meals. “I think it could be a great source of revenue for us.”

The center also is working on an agreement with NuYu Salon & Spa, located across the street, that would allow parents to pay a package fee to use the center’s drop-in service while at the salon.

Salon owner Merlisa Lawrence Corbett said offering a package deal is smart because the businesses share similar demographics.

“It just seemed like a natural fit because we have so many mothers who want to have services who can’t get away for an hour or so,” she said. “You don’t hire a nanny to get a facial.”

Ms. Waxman, who serves on the board of the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center, said she has heard of child care centers that have their own kitchens prepare meals for parents, but has never heard of a catered service.

“I don’t know of any that are doing that right now,” she said. “I think it could be a great service. Certain parents are extremely busy.”

Mrs. Chase doesn’t want to draw customers solely because of the concierge service. She hopes Bright Start’s entire package ” including an electronic security system and an educational curriculum ” will lure parents.

The center assigns parents a unique four-digit code they enter on a wall keypad in the entrance vestibule to gain access to the main rooms. A screen on the keypad displays information to parents about their children, such as messages telling them updated immunizations are needed.

Each classroom contains a webcam that allows parents to watch their children on a secure Internet Web site. The idea to install webcams, which many child care centers are beginning to use, was suggested by a parent, Mrs. Chase said.

Jacque Flynn, an adjunct professor in early childhood development at Montgomery College in Rockville, is serving as director of the center and will oversee the teachers and their assistants.

The center will be using an “eclectic and comprehensive” educational curriculum that focuses on emerging skills, problem solving, mathematics, language and literature.

“We’re expecting to produce can-do kids,” she said.

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