STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (WXYZ) — A self-described "latchkey kid," Mark Zahringer got off to a rough start; his parents split when he was six and he left home at 15.
“It’s really easy to go off in the wrong direction, and I was headed that way," he said, noting his troublesome teenage years.
“Education changed my life. I would tell people it saved me," he said.
Mark eventually enrolled at Notre Dame High School.
“With a lot of good mentors I was able to put myself through high school and then college," he added.
As a young adult, Mark was held up at gunpoint while working at a video store in 1985. He left Detroit after that harrowing experience and went on to work in marketing and admissions for colleges and universities around the country. He found corporate success out west.
And then, the pandemic hit, and every day Mark saw reminders of the ongoing childcare crisis; an issue that's always felt close to his heart. Despite his difficult start here, Mark always had plans to return to metro Detroit and open an affordable child care center.
Mark opened Legacy Children's Academy in Sterling Heights a few weeks ago. The Montessori-style learning center serves infants up to children 6 years old. So far they have seven students, the majority of them qualifying for discounted tuition.
“We ended up doing this as I said, unexpectedly, because Heritage Church had approached us," Mark said.
Though unaffiliated with Heritage Church, Legacy Children's Academy shares its space.
“They knew what our mission was," Mark said of Heritage Church.
That mission — meeting parents where they're at. As a non-profit, Legacy offers discounted tuition and outreach services with the help of Mark's sister non-profit Peaceful Hugs.
As for Legacy Children's Academy, "All of the money that comes in goes right back out in some form or fashion," Mark said.
He's hoping to open a second, tuition-free location in Detroit in the 6 Mile and Gratiot area.
“We hope to open around January or February and are looking for a location now," Mark told Action News.
The most recent U.S. jobs report shows the vast majority of people who are leaving the job market are women; highlighting the ongoing child crisis and its impact on the economy.
Click here for child care assistance through the State of Michigan.