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Khiari McAlpin’s day care center started off slow, but now winner of a small business award

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By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

The Perfect Place turned out to be the perfect place for Khiari McAlpin, founder, owner, and director of Vinehouse Nursery in Alabaster, Ala.

She opened her ecofriendly center a year ago and will celebrate its anniversary this month with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 16.

In May, Vinehouse Nursery was awarded the 2018 Small Business of the Year Award by the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce.

“It was exciting because we didn’t see that coming at all,” said McAlpin. “With us being so small, I just didn’t realize how many people actually knew us. … We won for our category, …. [a company that] had to have at least five employees. …  I was excited because we were competing against at least 15 other [companies].”

McAlpin, 30, always wanted to own a day care, but it wasn’t until she attended a bakery opening for a friend that doors opened for her business. At the opening she met her friend’s landlord and told him of her plans.

“It was crazy,” she said. “He [said to me], ‘I have a buddy who just closed a day care, and I want to put you in contact with him.’ So, while I was [at the bakery opening], I was able to … look at the building, … an old day care [named] the Perfect Place.”

‘Where You Need to Be’

McAlpin said she felt “God was speaking to me and saying, ‘This is where you need to be.’ So, I continued to do research and get everything in order as far as my architect. We [also] had to have a fire inspection and a child-care inspection,” as well as other work such as painting, sheet rock repair, and flooring.

To make the center stand out, McAlpin decided to make it ecofriendly.

“Everything we do here [involves] ecofriendliness, from the cleaning supplies we use to the toys we have for our kids,” she said. “Most of our toys are wooden, and many are made of recycled materials. Our bed sheets are organic cotton. Our food comes from a company named Home Plate Cooking; it’s catered, it’s healthy, and everything … is natural.”

Education and childhood development are key components of the Vinehouse Nursery experience.

“We have a curriculum called Mother Goose Time,” McAlpin said. “It’s really great because it’s both child friendly and teacher friendly. It hits those developmental milestones, such as cognitive, language, social, emotional, and physical development. I like it because it’s individualized. The teachers can actually sit with children one-on-one or work with two at a time [for] activities that last about 15 minutes.”

Planting Seeds

McAlpin is originally from Charlotte, N.C., where she lived until age 5, when her parents moved the family to Tuscaloosa, Ala. Growing up, she participated in several different activities. She was a cheerleader, as well as a member of a band dance team, the Girl Scouts, and the New Zion Baptist Church praise team.

“My mom did a really good job of making sure we were really in the community helping out any way we could,” McAlpin said. “Whether it was [helping] with a race or some type of awareness event, we were there.”

She attended Woodland Forrest Elementary School, Eastwood Middle School, and Paul Bryant High School, all in Tuscaloosa. After graduating from high school, McAlpin attended Auburn University, where she majored in elementary education. Her older sister, Brittany, also attended Auburn, which made her transition into college a bit easier.

“It was very helpful having her mentorship, having her show me around, and having her guide me along the way,” she said. “I enjoyed being a part of the Black Student Union [BSU]. I also pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which was a lot of fun because we got a chance to serve in the community and we had a chance to step. I was step master in college, so it was a lot of fun.”

As an elementary education major, McAlpin did a lot of work in schools.

“After my second year at Auburn, … [I did] a lot of field work,” she said. “I also had a part-time job working at a child-development center. That’s what made me want to open my own day care. I always wanted to be a teacher, but wanting to own my own facility came about when I was working in the child-care facility [during my time at Auburn].”

McAlpin said she is just amazed at the growth of a child from birth: “I tell anybody, babies are my niche. … I just love to see them develop.”

After graduating from Auburn with a bachelor’s degree in 2009, she started the Master of Education program at Auburn that fall.

Studying Abroad

While working toward her master’s degree, McAlpin studied abroad, spending two months in Arusha, Tanzania.

“Life is just completely different over there,” she said, “They don’t have it as great as we do here in America. They struggle sometimes with the basic things we take for granted. … A lot of children don’t even have the opportunity to go to school. It’s a privilege to go, and they have to wear uniforms to school, and if their parents can’t pay for it, they can’t go.

“Jobs are very limited there, and a lot of the women have to stay at home while the men work. During the day, we went out into the schools; that’s where we did a lot of our teaching. … We [also] learned Kiswahili, one of their languages, and had to take other courses.”

Another adjustment was the lack of technology.

“[In the United States], we have smart boards and computers,” McAlpin said. “Over there, it’s paper and pencil. We were very limited because a lot of things we did in graduate school were research-based and we had to have a computer with us because we read a lot of articles and wrote a lot of papers. [When we were overseas], our professor had to figure out a way to get the articles to us.”

While in graduate school, McAlpin had also taken a teaching position in Georgia as a preschool teacher, so she commuted frequently from Auburn to Georgia. After completing graduate school in 2010, McAlpin took a teaching job in Auburn, where she stayed for two more years before moving back to Charlotte to teach first grade. She stayed there until February 2017, when she moved to Birmingham.

Fruitful

When McAlpin moved to the Magic City, she knew it was time for her to start her own business, even though she didn’t really have a plan.

“I prayed about it,” she said. “I started doing research and had to take some coursework in child care resources to become a director.”

It was during this time that she attended the bakery opening, which led to her perfect place: Vinehouse Nursery.

The center’s name comes from the Bible, John 15: 1–2—“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

“Originally, I started thinking about what grows, so I thought about a plant. I wanted to name it greenhouse, but my sister was like, ‘No. That’s going to make people think you all are really a plant company.’ I kept thinking because I wanted to keep the whole theme of green,” McAlpin said.

“I started thinking about seeds and how flowers actually grow, and then I also just felt like I was missing something,” she said. “I started praying about it and asking God to lead and guide me. My stepdad is a minister, and he and I sat down and looked through the Bible. … I thought of the word ‘vineyard,’ and he was like, ‘I don’t know about that because it could put people in the sense of a winery, but I do like the word vine.’ We read John 15 and how it talks about God being the true vine and the head of the house, and if we live according to his word, we’ll always bear good fruit. So, thinking about the vine and how it’s His house, that’s how we kind of put it together.”

Once Vinehouse Nursey opened, McAlpin had what she termed “a wakeup call.”

From October to December, “we didn’t have any children,” she said. “It took time to grow the business and get our name out there.”

The center’s first child started in December, and the business began to take off; it now has 15 students and a waiting list of 30.

Right now, there are three classes: Seedlings, for children ages 6 weeks to 6 months; Sprouts 1, for children ages 6 months to 12 months; and Sprouts 2, for children ages 12 months to 24 months. In December, a fourth class will start for 2- and 3-year-olds.

Vinehouse Nursery was nominated for Best of the Best Child Care by Shelby Living magazine this year (winners have not been named yet), and McAlpin said she continues to count her blessings.

“I am praying that The Lord will provide … and excited for what God calls me to do,” she said.

Learn more about Vinehouse Nursery at vinehousenursery.com.