Thursday, July 11, 2013

Franchisee Spotlight: Hazel Mariano, Virginia Beach, VA

When Hazel Mariano became pregnant with her first child in 2001, she couldn’t help but think about all of the parents of the children she’d treated during her years as a pediatric nurse practitioner and the stresses that having a sick child placed on them. Over the years, she felt especially sympathetic to parents whose child had chronic illnesses, such as asthma, that required them to be out of school for two to three days at a time, four or five times a year (therefore, forcing the parent to be out of work for the same lengths of time). “I was talking to my sister over dinner about all of this, and I told her of a running joke we had at work about renting out the office for sick children,” Mariano says. “She said, ‘You know there are preschools with nurses, right? It’s called Rainbow Station.’”

Mariano, 40, attended the University of Virginia where she received her Bachelor’s of Nursing in 1993. After a year and a half in the field, she received her Master’s in 1997 and went on to work as a pediatric nurse practitioner for a private practice in Chesapeake, Va. She and her husband Rob are both East Coast natives, and he received his health science degree from Old Dominion University. Rob, 39, went on to work as a respiratory therapist in the pediatric sphere until they both left their jobs in 2007 to jump feet-first into Rainbow Station. “The school truly is the marriage of nursing and education,” Hazel says. “Nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat, but we actually are usually educators – teaching parents and families – so Rainbow Station really is the perfect fit.”

How did you learn about the brand?
After my sister told me about the brand over dinner, it was one of those nights where I was up late feeding the baby and surfing the web. I read the mission, vision and values and found out the founder was also a pediatric nurse. I emailed them at 2 a.m. just saying, “My name is Hazel; my sister Joyce works for you,” and let them know I was interested. Joyce was working as an administrative assistant there at the time. I guess my sister got a call from Gail Johnson the next morning, which started the process. My husband and I took a tour of the school, which looked like no other school I’d ever seen in Virginia Beach. At the same time, we were looking for daycare for my son, which was so hard after we knew what Rainbow Station was like; no other place even compared.

Why did you choose an opportunity with Rainbow Station?
My husband and I both have that entrepreneurial spirit. We wanted to start our own business, and we knew it couldn’t be a clothing store or a restaurant but that it needed to be relevant to our backgrounds and meaningful to us. We decided to take the leap of faith. We signed the agreement in 2003 and it wasn’t until 2006 that we found our location. But in 2007, we both left our jobs and things really got rolling.

Are you involved with any charities or do any community outreach with your business?

The first few years, we worked with the March of Dimes, and in the first year we raised $8,000 and in the second, $12,000. For the past few years, we’ve chosen The Cure Starts Now, a pediatric brain cancer foundation. The reason we got involved is that my neighbor’s child was diagnosed with DIPG, a brain tumor that leaves no chance of survival. She was alive for 20 months after she was diagnosed, and after seeing my neighbor go through this, we thought it’d be perfect. It’s child-based and there’s a local family personally involved in this matter. What we do for fundraisers is challenge each classroom to raise a certain amount of money – this time it was $250 – any way they want. So we had car washes, bake sales, canvas paintings and key chains to sell to parents, etc. And then we held a dodge ball tournament for parents and staff at the end. We do that big fundraiser once a year. Sometimes the older kids will do smaller ones or lemonade stands. But we try not to do too much because we don’t want to nickel and dime the parents. I’m sure the parents appreciate us not asking for money all the time.

Do you have any other interesting hobbies or passions?
I love to read. I chauffer my children everywhere because with five kids all under the age of 11, they all have activities and keep us quite busy. My husband and I are competitive when it comes to Jeopardy, and we love watching The Walking Dead.