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Mark Terry

Mark Terry spent decades in corporate America, but he’s always had a drive to help others through his work. 

The Little Mountain Climbers preschool and daycare owner previously worked as a programmer for Texas Instruments; military defense contractor Ling-Temco-Vaught; and Frito-Lay. He also worked as in IT sales at Matrix Resources. 

But the Texas native didn’t want to spend his entire work life with corporations. 

“When I went from college [at the University of Texas at Arlington] to corporate America, I was interested in building businesses where I could have people who were happy to go to work, could be successful and didn’t have to crawl over each other to climb the corporate ladder,” Terry said. “Then I wanted to have a business that did more than make money.” 

From 2001-2017, Terry owned a Right at Home In Home Care & Assistance franchise, which provides care options for seniors and adults with disabilities. 

From 2014-2018, Terry also served as a board member for Colorado Springs Food Rescue, now Food to Power — and he recognized how residents of Southeast Colorado Springs regularly struggled with food and childcare difficulties. 

“I knew the Southeast part of the town was a food desert and also had lots of issues with not having childcare, not having a lot of the support systems that people need to be productive people in the world,” Terry said. “I already had a passion for serving that community — and then it worked out that another way to serve that community would be to do childcare that’s focused on supporting low-income families.” 

Terry’s son-in-law, John Salinas, who is Little Mountain Climbers’ director of operations, talked to Terry about starting a business to help families who needed an alternative to pricey childcare. 

“I’ve always liked kids, but my son-in-law got a degree in childcare and this field is his passion. Then [John] got my daughter [Becca] interested in childcare,” Terry said. “While [John and I] were talking about what we could do to help out in the Southeast area, we noticed in the childcare industry there was the lack of childcare for low-income families.” 

Little Mountain Climbers opened Dec. 6 and serves more than 40 children — and Terry aims to reach its capacity of 168 kids. He spoke with the Business Journal about his expectations for Little Mountain Climbers, and tackling childcare troubles in the Southeast.  

What brought you to Colorado Springs?

I have loved Colorado for a long time. Me and my family would vacation in Colorado Springs all the time. Then me and the family decided we wanted to move out here and luckily [Matrix Resources] wanted to open up a branch in Colorado Springs and I said I would make that move when the company did open a branch here. That was in 2000.

Talk about your passion for improving the Southeast side of town.

It started with my involvement with Colorado Springs Food Rescue. Colorado Springs Food Rescue started out being a food rescue at Colorado College where they would save food that was still good but was about to be thrown away from Colorado College. Colorado Springs Food Rescue took that food to different nonprofits that were feeding people in need. We developed from that into assisting 20 different locations for neighborhood rescue areas [in Colorado Springs] where we would preserve food from grocery stores and take that food into the different neighborhoods around town with low-income families, and distribute that food to the people. We had that, plus we distributed food to over 20 different nonprofits in town ... so they could provide meals for homeless people and teens.   

What are your expectations for Little Mountain Climbers?

We want to help out as much as we can. At full occupancy, we’ll have 168 kids. Kids’ age ranges from six weeks to five years old. And the way we’re helping besides being in the neighborhood with low-income families, we’re working heavily with [Colorado Child Care Assistance Program] which provides childcare for low-income families. The government pays us to take care of low-income families so [the families and caretakers] can go get a job. ... One of the requirements for a family to get [assistance was that] someone in those families has to be employed — which is kind of a Catch-22. If they’re employed, but don’t have daycare, all their money goes toward finding daycare. If a person is employed, but still in the lower income bracket, [CCCAP will] pay anywhere from a percentage of the childcare up to the full childcare depending on the sliding scale.

When you say low income, what’s the scale for that?

We don’t determine that. Those numbers are determined by CCCAP and the government. We will take care of anybody — and we have private pay kids as well. It’s not that we won’t take private pay, it’s just from my research and research of the people who work for me, most daycares in town will take a maximum of 10 percent CCCAP. We decided that we wanted to take as many CCCAP kids who wanted to come. We’re willing to help out as many kids as possible and whether they’re CCCAP or private pay, we’re more concerned about doing our part. 

For kids whose first language is not English, how do you ensure they get the same care everybody else does?

Our executive director [Erica Lopez] is Hispanic and is bilingual [English and Spanish]. And about half of our teachers are Hispanic and speak English and Spanish fluently. On our website, if you click on Español, you can go to the Hispanic version of the website. We’re conscious of the local community and cater to English and Spanish speaking families. 

What’s the long-term goal for this daycare?  

Our first goal is to take care of the Southeast part of town. The way it’s going right now, it’s exceeding our expectations — we’ll probably be at capacity before the end of the year. And, you know if it goes how we think it’s going to go and it works out great, we’ll look to target other areas of town that are lower income as well and provide the same service in different parts of town.  

What does ‘great’ look like to you?

Keeping this business open for years. As a business owner, you never know what’s going happen. You never know what the government is going to decide to do. We can always fall back and be a private daycare center — that’s private pay. That will always be there. There’s always going to be a need for daycare. Hopefully, Colorado will continue to think daycare for kids of lower income is important as well. And as long as they do, we’ll be there to take care of the kids.