Vivvi Childcare Founders Charles Bonello and Ben Newton
For most parents, child care is one of the most critical challenges they can experience when balancing work and home life. According to Zippia.com, 58% of working parents depend on childcare centers. They also shared that 20% of mothers who do not currently work would look for a job if they had better access to quality child care and companies average about $12.7 billion in lost business revenue due to child care issues. For we all know when we do not have child care, even for a day, it throws off everything.
We touched base with the founders of Vivvi, a growing child care company with 5 campuses around NYC that also offers employer-sponsored child care, Charles ‘Charlie’ Bonello and Ben Newton. Dads to little ones (Charlie has a 3-year-old and 15-month-old twins) and Ben has a 16-month-old); their mission is to support working parents across NYC and help companies set up child care solutions for their employees.
Read on to learn about these two dads!
Why child care? What was the issue you set out to solve?
Charlie: Child care is the single biggest pain point for working families—it’s expensive and there’s not enough of it. For me, that realization came about 12 years ago when I co-founded my last company, which was in the technology and real estate space. At least once a week someone would come into my office and say “I’m pregnant” or “My partner’s pregnant” and ask about child care. Then they’d learn that the closest child care center was a half hour away from their home, and it was only open until 3pm, and there was a 15-month waiting list. About half of them never came back to work. And as I started digging in, I realized that this wasn’t just about us, or New York…it was the entire U.S.
The pandemic shed light on child care issues since it was hard to ignore all those children suddenly in everyone’s zoom meetings, but honestly, it’s something parents have known for a long time: without affordable, accessible child care, you simply cannot work.
We created Vivvi to help bring families high-quality, dependable and flexible child care and early learning that works for the way parents work today. We designed our programs and offerings that account for the realities that parents face while trying to juggle parenting and a career. That means extended hours (we’re open 7 am-7 pm) that truly work for working parents, warm and passionate teachers, and beautiful spaces that are purposefully designed for learning.
Ben: We know that early education is so important for young children—95% of brain development happens during early childhood education. And yet, in New York City, there isn’t a lot of early learning support for parents who return to work after parental leave. Our mission is to provide the highest quality of child care and early learning possible so that parents feel supported as they reenter their careers.
How has fatherhood changed the way you do business, both emotionally and logistically?
Ben: I’ve spent my career in education, from teaching middle schoolers down in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina, to working on the founding team of a network of private schools called Avenues here in New York. My wife is in education too, so together, we knew a lot about what parents needed and how to serve them before we become parents. But now that I have Levi, I can appreciate the daily decision points parents have around balancing work and care…it’s made me more empathetic, especially to families trying to balance it all while still feeling like a present parent. And it drives me to create a place where parents feel that the trade-off doesn’t need to exist.
Charlie: My 3-year-old Grace has been attending our programs since she was 6 weeks old and that wasn’t enough for me, so I had twins a year ago. I’m really in it right now, and being a father drives everything I do.
My own father is an immigrant, and he was a stay-at-home dad while my mother worked full-time. He was deeply involved in our lives and modeled that being present matters. I think about that often as a parent—even though I’m not home with my kids full-time like he was, I try to make all the tiny moments matter. Grace and I do positive affirmations every morning on our commute, and she shares stories from her day on our way home. I remind myself that the habits that we build on a daily basis become a part of who they are as little people and, eventually, as adults.
Tell me about the educational program at Vivvi. What drives the learning model and why do you feel it is an effective way for kids to learn?
Ben: The curriculum at Vivvi is based on how young children learn best. We know from all kinds of research that they are naturally most curious about their own interests, so we use an “inquiry-based” approach that allows teachers to build units based on children’s questions about the world around them. We train our teachers to own their classrooms, and be responsive to the needs and interests of their children.
So what that looks like might be something like this: A teacher notices a child in their classroom is excited about the traffic outside. So they’ll create a curriculum about transportation with opportunities to learn math from counting wheels or social skills through dramatic play in an imaginary car wash.
You will never walk into one of our classrooms and see a teacher reading curriculum from a binder. You won’t see a row of the typical cotton ball snowman project on the bulletin board. In our classrooms, students of all ages are pursuing their own interests, with student-initiated activities, and student-initiated artwork. For babies, that means helping to inquire and learn how to ask questions; for older children, it means supporting them as they develop their own questions and seek the answers. And at the heart of all of this learning is play, which we know allows children to make sense of the world.
What are your next steps? And when can more New Yorkers expect to find a Vivvi near them?
Charlie: We have campuses in Tribeca, Hudson Yards, World Trade Center and Dumbo, and we’re working on openings in Midtown West and the Upper East Side. Over the next three years, we hope to see dozens of locations throughout the tri-state area, and soon we’ll be in nearby cities like Boston and Washington, D.C. too.
We’re also partnering with more and more employers to make child care accessible and affordable for working families. It’s our mission to support parents and caregivers so they can return to—and stay in—the workforce, and we know that offering child care as a benefit is the best way to do that.
As a father of three—including two daughters—I want to see my children to grow up in a world where they don’t have to choose between growing their careers and growing a family. I’m building Vivvi with them in mind, and I hope that more companies will step up with solutions and partnerships that make the world a better place for working parents.