|In 6th grade, Susan Leger volunteered to baby-sit
children in her neighborhood and her love for children has only
grown since. In 7th and 8th grade, she offered her baby-sitting
services to the teachers of the Mount Carmel school in Methuen.
She also volunteered at the Museum of Science in the Eye-opener
program as a tour guide for 3-5 year old inner-city children
during the summer of her 7th and 8th grades.
In High School, Susan enrolled in the early childhood education
program at Methuen, High called Rangerland Center. She worked
at Kindercare after school and during the summer. In her senior
year she interned at the Kindergarten program at the Oakland
Avenue School in Methuen.
As graduation was approaching, Susan needed to make decisions
on the future, post secondary school and career options. She
decided to go to college during the night and open her own
family day care. However, child care licenses are reserved
for adults aged 18 and over, and Susan, being only 17, had
to request a waiver in order to receive her family care license.
She appealed to Denise Benner-Hall, an Early Education teacher
at Methuen High, to write a letter on Susan's behalf, address
the OCCS board and the Office for Child Care Services granted
In October 1982, at the age of 17, Susan rented a duplex
and opened a daycare licensed for 6 children called Susan's
Playpen. Most of these initial children have returned or worked
for Little Sprouts at some point.
In 1983, when Susan was just 19 years old, she found a house
in the valley in Methuen that she decided she wanted to purchase.
Susan's Playpen reopened that October and increased its license
to 15 children. Susan and Donna Melisi- Kiley, now a registered
massage therapist, cared for these children from 6:00-6:00
pm Monday through Friday.
In 1985, Susan got married and had her first son, Nicholas.
She sold her house at double the price she bought it for 2
years earlier, and moved to another house on Merrimack Street.
In 1986, Little Sprouts was officially formed licensed for
37 children age infants through kindergarten, and 14 employees
including current Little Sprouts Administrators Danielle Dirsa
Sharpe and Alison Bouchard as high school student interns.
In 1987, Susan had her second son, Tony.
In 1990, after always having full enrollment, Susan realized
that to meet the needs of the community, Little Sprouts needed
to grow. She met with local corporations and eventually began
negotiations with Bill Felides, the landlord for Brooks Property.
It took Susan over two years to convince Mr. Felides that
what Valley Office Park needed was a corporate child care
center to attract and retain tenants. Even when he was convinced,
Susan still had a difficult time obtaining funding to open
the center. However, through her perseverance, she was awarded
a $110,000 loan from the Massachusetts Industrial Finance
Funds. Little Sprouts was the first early education center
funded with MIFA laons. Susan also looked for corporate sponsors
and got Nynex to donate $40,000 and AT&T to contribute
$75,000 for start up funds, equipment, and supplies. This
funding enabled Susan to open the Methuen Little Sprouts Child
Enrichment Centers in February 1994.
In 1995, Susan bid against Bright Horizons and Kindercare,
among others, to open Little Sprouts @ Cross Point for 144
children. The Cross Point Towers chose Little Sprouts based
on its personalized approach, exceptional curriculum, and
innovative environments. They utilized the benefit of excellence
in early child care to attract tenants to fill up the Cross
Point Towers in Lowell, MA. Cross Point is one of those one
in a million success stories that forever changed the redevelopment
of Lowell, MA.
During 1995 Little Sprouts was also invited to bid on a campus
child care center at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill,
MA. Current competitor Bright Horizons was unable to sustain
enrollment due to the intricate scheduling required to meet
faculty, staff and student needs. Little Sprouts presented
their proposal to the Trustees at Northern Essex and won over
4 other National Child Care centers. Little Sprouts at Northern
Essex opened June 2005 licensed for 74 children. Summer 1996
was opening year for Big Sprouts Summer Adventure Camp serving
50+ children aged 5-12. The rolling hills of Northern Essex
campus, the nature trails of adjacent Kenoza Lake, offered
full opportunity for frolicking and making friends that last
a lifetime. Expanded transportation to and from the Methuen
and Andover locations was added the following year to share
an adventurous summer experience for all Sprouts!
In 1998, the 3rd Little Sprouts opened at 31 Webster Street
to serve the Andover and Lawrence communities. They moved
main offices to this location to better serve the region of
Little Sprouts Child Enrichment Centers. Later that year,
the 4th Little Sprouts opened at Lowell General Hospital serving
96 children offering extended hours, expanded services, and
Saturday Care. LGH staff, faculty, doctors and nurses enjoyed
the benefits of visiting their children during the day, sharing
lunch, nursing their infant and many benefits on site care
In September 1998, the Methuen Little Sprouts opened a full
time School Age program, offering After School and Before
School programming as well as programming on vacation days
and snow days. Summer of 2001 was opening year for Blooming
Sprouts Summer Program offering a new summer opportunity for
newly blossoming sprouts. During this year Big Sprouts received
a grant from ABC consortium of grantees including IBM families
that offered Corporate Partnership allowing priority placement,
free registration, tuition discounts.
Lucent Technologies continued to be a great supporter of
Little Sprouts Child Enrichment Centers. By submitting grant
applications, Little Sprouts has been awarded 5 Lucent grants
totally over $200,000 to provide training for educators, purchase
new playground equipment, a bus for school age and field trips,
infant and toddler developmentally appropriate equipment.
Throughout this adventure, Susan continued her education
and training. In 1996 she was certified to be a 7 Habits of
Highly Effective People facilitator and brought these skills
to her employees. At this same time, Susan chose the High/Scope
Approach as the curriculum for all Little Sprouts and in 1998
was awarded a $114,000 Massachusetts Workforce Training Grant
to train Little Sprouts staff members in High/Scope and the
7 Habits. Susan later became certified in "What Matters
Most," "Building Trust," "The Student
Achievement Workshop," "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective
Teens" and many other leadership trainings.
Although Little Sprouts was thriving, Susan wanted more.
In 2000, she decided to formalize the training program that
had been installed for Little Sprouts teachers, and sought
to create a program for youth to assist in their education
while learning the skills needed to be an Early Education
Teacher. In 2002, Little Sprouts was awarded a grant from
the Department of Training and Development for an "Out
of School Youth" program. Little Sprouts took 17 youth
and gave them GED classes, Leadership skills, and employability
skills while they learned first hand how to be a teacher in
an Early Childhood Center. In 2003, the funding was awarded
again and in June 2004, Little Sprouts graduated its second
Project STRIVE Out of School Youth class.
This model of serving at-risk teens had personal meaning
to Susan, when in 2000, her foster son, Marvin, came to live
with her and her family.
So much time and energy is spent on training and development
in Little Sprouts, that it was only a matter of time before
that piece of the company broke off to form its own branch.
In 1998, the groundwork for the Leadership and Literacy Foundation
was set, and in 2000 it started to offer formal trainings
to local high schools, corporations and the public. Though
there were at least 10 certified training providers for the
Foundation, many of the trainings were offered at low to no
cost. In the winter of 2003, the Foundation received its official
501(c)3, nonprofit status and in 2004 a Board of Directors
was formed and the Leadership and Literacy was officially
its own organization.
Susan continues to look towards the future and possibilities
for growth. In 2003, Little Sprouts beat out over 2000 other
early education centers in the nation to be one of only 93
that were awarded the prestigious Early Reading First grant.
This three year project offers Little Sprouts the opportunity
to increase the literacy in the preschool rooms and offer
teachers increased professional development to better serve
the children. Additional grants are always being submitted
to further increase the quality of care at Little Sprouts
and to add additional, crucial programming.