Heroes of Disability Care
ANN WILLIAMS of CARING HANDS
From Direct Support Professional/Director to entrepreneur – a journey that’s not for the fainthearted.
When Ann Williams left the organization, she’d been working for as a Director/Caregiver caring for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, she was heartbroken. She didn’t make the decision lightly, having worked for the organization for nearly 13 years. In that time, she’d built up relationships with countless families whose loved ones she had provided services to. But she had seen the bottom line become more important than compassionate care – an ethos she didn’t feel she could cosign.
“That’s when my husband, Aundra, stepped up to the plate,” Ann recalls. “He said, ‘You don’t have to work for anyone considering you have years of experience and you have a passion for what you do. You can design a program the way you want to … and be able to provide the services that you once provided.’ That’s what got me started on the journey.”
The journey has been a long one, with many challenges along the way – some of which demanded unconventional solutions – but it’s been more than worth it. In August of 2021, three years after starting their entrepreneurial journey, Ann opened Caring Hands Adult Day Service, CHADS, an adult day program providing services for people with physical and cognitive disabilities. “We work with them to improve their independence, social skills and self-help skills, as well as supporting them in maintaining the abilities they already have,” Ann explains.
Today, CHADS operates out of a 9,000 square foot facility in North Las Vegas. The space includes a 3,718 square foot program area and comprehensive client facilities: a computer lab, self-help skills room, storage cubicles, classroom, quiet room, restrooms, and changing room with Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant shower. That’s in addition to administrative spaces, case management offices, and staff locker and break rooms.
For Ann, who has been working as a Director/Caregiver for over 30 years, operating CHADS is a dream come true – and CHADS’ success has exceeded her expectations. Many of the families she supported while employed as a director elsewhere followed her to her new business venture: “The majority of the clientele that I have now were clients that I supported before I went into business for myself,” she explains, calling it a “good surprise.”
However, the road to entrepreneurship also held some bad surprises. Funding was one challenge. Ann and Aundra did everything by the book, completing a comprehensive business plan, detailed financial projections, and obtaining the necessary credentials. They even secured the physical space they would need for the adult service facility. However, when it came to getting the final cash infusion they needed to open their doors, they hit a brick wall.
“Entrepreneurs take chances all the time,” Aundra says, while admitting, “We had sunk so much money personally… We could have lost everything.” They talked to four different banks – all of them impressed by the couples’ business plan and credentials – but couldn’t get the money they needed. “The fact is that we were a startup, and no one wanted to give us an opportunity,” Aundra says, “So, I had to get creative and think outside the box.”
That out-of-the-box thinking brought them to Fountainhead. A national, non-bank commercial lender, Fountainhead specializes in helping businesses of small to mid-sized enterprises finance growth. “They gave us opportunities that no bank would,” according to Aundra. Along with support from Joe Amato of Silveridge Group, Fountainhead funded their adult day services startup.
Securing funding wasn’t the final hurdle to clear, however. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was another unavoidable challenge. Opening the business in 2021, Ann and Aundra missed the window for a Paycheck Protection Program loan. The startup costs continued to stack up, well before CHADS was operational and bringing in any revenue. At the beginning, the couple struggled to keep the business afloat.
Staffing was another challenge. Ann explains, “I pride myself on hand-picking the staff. When it comes to working with these individuals, it can’t be just a job. You’ve got to have compassion and patience, and a clear understanding of these individuals’ needs.” Luckily, Ann’s persistence paid off, and CHADS has grown a strong team of skilled Direct Support Professionals: Today, the facility employs about 30 staff and serves 50 to 55 clients – a far cry from the seven staff and 15 clients CHADS began with.
Through it all, Ann has stuck to her commitment of never maximizing profits at the expense of service – proving that successful entrepreneurship and compassionate care can go hand-in-hand. Ann herself admits that the transition from caregiver to business owner was stark: “I built a very strong character as an entrepreneur along the way. I don’t think entrepreneurship was really in my blood – until I realized that there’s a service that is much needed out here.”
As for the future, Ann and Andre are preparing for CHADS to grow. They already have an architect working on the facility’s expansion plans and are considering going back to Fountainhead to see about securing a U.S. Small Business Administration 504 Loan. Discussing her motivation for expanding, Ann explains, “I know I can’t save the world, but I want to try and support and help as many clients as I can.”
The future is looking bright for Ann and Aundra. They’re honest about the hurdles they had to overcome on their entrepreneurial journey – but they are also proof that an unconventional path to business ownership is possible.
“Starting a business is not for everyone,” Aundra cautions, “but if you are hungry and you know this is something you want to do, and you’ve done your homework – go for it. And do not let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Because I can’t even count the number of times we were told we can’t and the doors were shut in our face. Just stay with it and be positive. And don’t give up.”