Black owned businesses in the U.S. that are seeking exposure outside of the typical channels are facing challenges to establish themselves, obtain capital, and deal with the terms of real estate in order to practice. In this interview I illuminate the story of an individual who is helping an underserved group in need. This person, whom I hold in great esteem, is Dr. Lorenzo Woodson. I admire not only his mission, but also his perseverance getting through the lease and renovation process for his new practice, Educational & Behavioral Consulting Services, LLC, a service center the autism community.
Can you explain what your business does and who it serves? How long have you been in business?
Educational & Behavioral Consulting Services, LLC (Pediatric Center for Autism) is a subsidiary of EBCS, LLC to provide a full day of evidenced-based clinical models to assist with positive growth and development across the developmental spectrum (social, emotional, behavioral, intellectual, and physical). EBCS, LLC was established in 2010. EBCS provides licensed behavioral health services specializing in the study, research, practice, and developmental-behavioral treatment/intervention strategies for children on the autism spectrum. Our Pediatric Center for Autism provides a full day of service for children between the ages of 2 and 4.5 years old. The center also provides speech therapy, ABA services and evidenced-based modalities to increase growth and development potential.
What paths did you take to get to know that you wanted to start a business?
My path to getting to the development of EBCS derived from my personal experience of working in the public schools and experiencing the issues related to boys disproportionately being labelled particularly, males of African descent referred to special education evaluation. Often the same males were misdiagnosed. This phenomenon was troubling and appeared to be biased. I then enrolled in a Doctorate program and developed research around the problem I had recognized over my professional experience. I researched with the Philadelphia school district and published it in peer-review Journal. I am a licensed clinical practitioner that received my state license under the Pennsylvania board of medicine ethical guidelines of professional conduct with the district, various behavioral health organizations, early intervention, and daycare centers. During that time, I saw an exponential increase in more male children of African descent diagnosed and misdiagnosed leaving, many parents without much help. African American parents often did not have much recourse to get their autistic child a full day of day treatment. Many autistic children were on a waiting list during a critical time in their development and settling for ill-equipped daycares. I was encouraged to fill the gap in services by developing the Pediatric Center for Autism to give at least 14 parents in the northwest area of Philadelphia a more suitable option.
IS: Although my familiarity with the Autism spectrum and service needs is limited, I have come to understand that these healthcare needs are growing. I have come to understand that the service need is high typically in affluent communities, I can only expect with what the Covid-9 crisis revealed there is even higher service demand for what you offer.
Can you speak to that?
Correct Ian, there are no African American owned and operated centers specifically for autistic children and surely not enough to provide a significant portion of those African American families in need of services. Often, single parents’ male and female struggle, and often their autistic children fall through the cracks for a variety of reasons; lack of understanding of what is available to them, also trauma and denial about having an autistic child, and not knowing how to advocate and navigate through a biased, limited resource heavily regulated and political system.
After you made your decision to bring your practice to the public in this project, how difficult would you say that it was given you have a significant quantity of experience working to get things completed.
This project genesis began in April 2019 by using my savings and taking out loans. After securing loans, I then searched for a location that was visible and had lots of traffic. Then took a lease on the commercial property. I had to attend an orientation with the state to become a provider and be informed about state policies to run and operate my program. Also, I had to take a certification test and meet the city department of License and Inspection and tax guidelines before opening. It was complicated and costly as well as frustrating when dealing with municipal services and contractors. This entire process was beyond my understanding. I learned the process and forced the owner to bring all six of his buildings up to code. All of the owners five buildings were operating under code. Thanks to the efficient work of the architect Ian Design Group. I had put down a floor and other fixtures to meet license Inspection and the department of health and secure general liability insurance, and I paid for professional liability insurance. I paid for advertisement; window signage, internet, phone system, desks, refrigeration, and microwave, fire extinguishers, learning materials, toys, furniture, big-screen televisions, desks, and chairs for the children, and sensory equipment for the sensory playroom. During Covid-19 onset, the process slowed the city licensing services down for a year and prolonged my final inspection to get my Certificate of Occupancy was very challenging to my spirit. The aforementioned were precursors to my educational and professional qualifications, degrees, and certifications. Although, they do count to the overall program. Do not forget I still had to pay rent and write a letter to fight to have the owner work with me around paying no rent during covid-19.
How long did it take?
The time it took to get through the entire process to open for service has been since April 2019. I am in the last phase of the process and hopefully, I can have a grand opening in September 2021.
What were the largest challenges?
The largest of my challenges were Covid-19 and negotiating work and dealing with getting others to complete things promptly and professionally with the city agencies, contractors, and merchants/vendors. The Covid-19 pandemic shutdown has been a temperance lesson for me when dealing with bureaucracies.
What were some of the highlights and perhaps even delightfully unexpected?
Getting over every hurdle, small or large, was a highlight and gave me hope and confidence that the dream would be worth all the sacrifice. All of the people who shared my values, integrity and in all their efforts to help me were positive highlights. They all help me realize the true meaning of building something and knowing that you cannot do such endeavors alone and be truly successful.
Did your network assist you in any meaningful way?
My network of supporters was helpful and disappointing in some cases but, they got things done. Every little bit of their contribution was appreciated, however, given.
When we were introduced you had mentioned that it was very difficult to find an architect that was also African American. How did the architect, in this case, assist with the process?
One of the greatest highlights was the team of African Americans professionals of many trades. My team of supporters that guided me was Ian Design Group, which came in and was very professional and personable easy to communicate with. Most of all, the organization was most helpful in getting me from the beginning to the final issuance of my Certificate of Occupancy. Without his patience and dedication, I do not know what I may have done. I am grateful and humbled by such a great team which proves African Americans from realtors’ contractors, sign companies, and Architects can work together to circulate dollars four times in our community. Thank you, Ian.