In 1978, Hattie Mae Holifield established a goal to open a daycare after discovering how difficult it was to find quality, affordable, and dependable childcare for her four kids. She has defied obstacles to create and sustain a successful daycare from her home in the Glenville neighborhood for nearly 45 years. In that time, she has raised multiple generations of Cleveland residents, while reducing the cost of childcare for mostly single black mothers.
As a single mother in a new city, Ms. Hattie struggled to find adequate care for her deaf son. This arduous task encouraged her to seek alternative options. Every place she sent her son, she returned from work to find him unhappy and mistreated. She spoke with neighbors who had the same experience of having few options for places to send their kids while they worked. Ms. Hattie decided to keep her son at home and began to watch some of the neighborhood kids, as well.
(Editor’s note: Derrick Holifield is Hattie Mae Holifield’s youngest grandson.)
“There were not many work or daycare options for black women in Cleveland in the 1970’s,” she said. “Even now, people have a hard time making ends meet. I had to use my hands and provide for my family. My husband and I had separated, and my mother was getting older and she could not help me anymore.”
Holifield first came to Cleveland in 1974 with three of her four children, dreaming of a better life, one absent from the fear and trauma associated with racism and poverty. “[My mother] sent us on a greyhound bus from Alabama to Cleveland with a few bags and tuna fish sandwiches,” she said. “I moved in with my sister in the Hough neighborhood.”
After living with her sister, she moved to the King Kennedy Housing Projects, managed by the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority. She found it nearly impossible to provide for her family on the wages she earned on her hands and knees cleaning homes and working for the county as a maintenance worker. She made around $60 a week, which was an increase from the $10 a week she made working in Alabama.
After moving from the Central neighborhood to the Fairfax neighborhood, Ms. Hattie settled in the Glenville neighborhood. She began selling food items and snacks to support her family. After saving enough money to purchase her own home in Glenville, Ms. Hattie, as she is known, used those same hands to care for her neighbor’s children and many more from her neighborhood. She quickly became known as the grandmother of the Glenville neighborhood.
Monzie Vaughn, a Glenville neighbor for over 40 years, described Ms. Hattie as “a phenomenal woman who would go above and beyond for mothers and kids. She kept everyone in the neighborhood! She would help mothers by doing their child’s hair, getting kids dressed for school, and cooking delicious meals.”
“There were many mothers who could not afford daycare and Ms. Hattie would watch their kids for free until the mother made enough money to provide for her family,” Vaughn said. “There are not many daycares that will watch the kids for free. I don’t know any that will do that.”
Magen Smith, a former attendee and customer at the daycare, echoed these sentiments by saying, “My earliest experience is going to her daycare as a young kid. She treated me like her own child. She fed me, clothed me, and gave me whatever I needed. She is open and honest, and she is reasonably priced. If you don’t have it, she does not charge you. It was no question that she had to take care of my daughter when I had a child. She even helped me get my college degree. She kept my daughter later in the evening so I could take my night class.”
Ms. Hattie was a helping hand to many mothers who wanted quality childcare that was also affordable. Many wonder how she became so successful so quickly. “I never had to advertise because people would tell others about my work,” Holifield said. “When you are honest and trustworthy, people gravitate to you. When you do a good job and do your best, people will always come back, even when you don’t want them back,” she laughs.
“Hattie was able to build a successful business in Cleveland because of who she is and how she runs her business,” confirmed Vaugh. “She is firm and fair and don’t take no mess! She treats the kids like her own. She runs a tight ship. She opens when she says she’s open, and she don’t take days off. Hattie don’t allow different people around her kids, and she loves those kids!”
When Ms. Hattie first started watching kids, word quickly got out about her cooking, knowledge of raising kids, and prices. She clothed, groomed, and fed kids throughout the neighborhood. Before she knew it, her house was filled with kids. Later, she hired some of those former kids to help her out at the daycare. This was a first job for dozens of kids, including her own kids and most of her grandkids. Hattie Holifield believed in teaching young people responsibility, hard work, cleanliness, and how to manage money.
Vaughn recalls trying to tell Ms. Hattie the foods that her kids did not eat. “I told her that they don’t eat this, and they don’t eat that,” Vaughn said, laughing. “She told me they eat it over here. I kept saying I cook it and they won’t eat it. She told me to come to the daycare around lunch time, without calling, and see what they were eating. I did just that. After coming in that day, I never told another person again what my kids don’t eat. She was such a good cook. Whatever she gave them, they ate it.”
Neighbors feel the same about Ms. Hattie’s cooking. To this day, there are people who show up on holidays and Sundays to get a hot meal. Her kitchen is always open to those in need. Ms. Hattie is more than a daycare provider. To some people, she is everything. She’s a mother, grandmother, and confidante to people all over the city of Cleveland and beyond.
Now officially retired, Ms. Hattie spends her days gardening and taking care of her properties in Glenville. She is known to have the best yards in the neighborhood. She takes pride in family, service, homeownership, and her own community. Any Sunday, you may see her cleaning up her yard or caring for the yard of an abandoned home near hers.
This mother, grandmother, and great grandmother is proud of her journey from needing help to becoming someone who provided help. Her entrepreneurial spirit began in public housing and led her to own 4 homes in the Glenville neighborhood. She is always willing to help those in need.
“If they could not afford to pay me but I knew they were working and trying to make something out of themselves, I would always take them,” said Ms. Hattie. “Sometimes I would make something and sometimes I didn’t. Some people did not have nothing, you hear me. They did not have nobody to help them. I knew where they came from because that is where I came from. That is why I reached out to help them because I know how I struggled to get where I am at. I wanted to help them get somewhere in life and most of them did get somewhere.”
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