How one organization wants to change child care benefits

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Charles Bonello, CEO and co-founder at child care benefit company Vivvi, has seen first hand what happens when employees struggle to find appropriate care options for their children. When he was the managing director of Grand Central Tech — a technology ecosystem — he would hear the worry in the voices of the employee parents who would come to him looking for employer sponsored child care benefits that didn’t exist.

“It got to the point where once a week somebody would come in and be on the verge of tears and say ‘I’m pregnant,’’ Bonello says. “The next week they would come back in tears and say ‘did you know it costs $3,500 to put my kid in daycare… is it even worth it for me to go back to work?’”

Only a quarter of organizations allow employee parents to bring their children to work, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Other child care benefits are uncommon and have shown little change over the last 5 years, according to SHRM. Finding high quality child care can take an emotional and financial toll on employees. The average annual cost of center-based day care in the U.S. is $11,666, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

Bonello and his partner, COO Ben Newton, decided to create a company that would focus on alleviating an enormous pain point for working families.

“Vivvi seeks to offer child care at a fraction of the cost by working directly with employers to provide this as a benefit to their people,” Bonello says. “There’s only two costs in providing world class child care: space and people. If you sacrifice either of those you’re placing everything in an unsustainable risk.”

Vivvi launched its first early education child care space in New York in July. It’s a daycare, preschool, and a family activity center all in one, offering 12 hours of care five days a week for children aged six weeks to five years old.

The space is open and light, with rooms dedicated to children of different ages, where they can interact with their teachers and the other kids. There are currently 18 educators employed at the center, all with backgrounds in education. Bonello and Newton wanted to offer a benefit that would also help kids get a strong educational foundation.

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“We do an inquiry-based curriculum known as the Vivvi learning model,” Bonello says. “At the early stages we teach the children how to ask questions about the world around them and as they get older how to find answers to those questions.”

The dozen employers signed up for the program — including Horizon Media, west~bourne, and Concentric — are all within a 15-block radius and parents are encouraged to stop by during the day to visit their children.

“Employers are seeing employees are really happy and that it has made them more productive,” Bonello says. “As a mom, instead of pumping [at work] you can come down [to the center] and nurse your kid.”

Vivvi’s tuition is $3,600 a month for an infant or toddler and $2,900 a month for preschoolers. Employee coverage of the tuition varies, but is typically around $2,000 a month per employee. Vivvi also helps employers apply for federal tax credits that will reduce the cost of tuition.

Vivvi will be adding a second New York location on September 1, 2020, when it takes over operations of Trinity preschool from the 173-year-old Trinity Church on Wall Street.

But Vivvi isn’t planning on limiting its footprint to just New York City. Bonello says they are looking at the possibility of expanding to Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

“Child care is a crisis that doesn’t make exceptions,” Bonello says. “For so long we’ve been conditioned to say this is what work-life balance looks like. [At Vivvi] we’re saying work-life balance doesn’t exist, it’s work-life integration.”

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