Families Find Support at the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society

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By Ximena Del Cerro, Brooklyn Paper

Artist and dedicated Bed Stuy mom Nandy Del Castillo and her daughters have found an unconventional community where they can learn, teach, and grow at the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society.

Before she became an entrepreneur, Del Castillo worked in tech for over 15 years. She was in the sales force and later, a creative and a public speaker for Apple, giving seminars on coding, but she wasn’t fulfilled. She wanted to spend more time with her young daughter, and she was pregnant with her second child.

Del Castillo would draw portraits to nurture her creativity, and when people saw the art she could make, she would hear the same compliment over and over — “I would pay for this.” It occurred to her to turn her drawings into something approachable that people could interact with. In 2019, after giving birth to her second daughter and quitting her job, she started selling her pictures as stickers through her Etsy store, Salem 365.

She established her brand’s identity by mostly making pieces about celebrities of color, like Beyonce in her Renaissance tour outfits or Bad Bunny. It didn’t take long before her products trended on TikTok, which she ended up using as a sales extension. After that, she published a coloring book, “Hollywood in Colors,” with Amazon.

The business costs were low, she didn’t need space to store inventory, she worked out of her living room while rocking her newborn with her legs and drawing with her hands. As her daughters kept growing, Del Castillo had to switch from multitasking to waiting for them to go to sleep so that she could advance on about 300 orders per night. Soon, that became too difficult.

covers of coloring books

Del Castillo creates stickers, pins, coloring books, and more . Photo via Nandy del Castillo

She needed only a few hours per day to take care of business and that was around the time when her kids were old enough to enroll in pre-K.

Now, Del Castillo is part of the parents network at the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, where she holds free seminars on how to start a businesses, how to find a niche market, how to create content and sustain a TikTok audience, how to find a second income independent of a 9 to 5, and how to support their families in different ways. Meanwhile, her kids get an education she is very satisfied with.

“My youngest, the 4-year-old, was starting to learn to multiply at home, her teacher noticed and now she is fostering her curiosity with special assignments,” said Del Castillo. “At this young age, their neurons are developing and it is important to help out their parents to succeed because happy parents create happy homes.”

The Brooklyn Kindergarten Society has been around for 132 years, and it now has seven centers in Bed Stuy, Crown Heights, and Brownsville. It is focused on early childhood education for low-income families with kids between 2 and 5 as preparation for kindergarten. They offer special lessons such as violin and tennis and provide learning differences therapy for kids with autism.

“Our work is to make sure all our kids have the same and the best start,” said BKS Executive Director Melisha Jackman.

Only 10 percent of the families who make up BKS are above the federal poverty line.

The pre-K’s funding comes from the Federal Department of Education, sponsorships, and fundraisers. On December 9, the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society will hold its biggest event of the year, the Yuletide Ball, with an open invitation, which raises resources for its Music and Movement Program and its new Sensory Gym for students with learning differences and developmental delays.

people seated at a table for a meal

The upcoming Yuletide Ball raises funds for the school’s Music and Movement program and for its new Sensory Gym, which opened last year. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society

Many of the 210 children enrolled come from immigrant families, and BKS teachers do their best to enhance their learning of both English and their native languages.

“My daughter’s teacher knew she speaks Russian and labeled the furniture in their classroom with their Russian names,” said Del Castillo.”I was surprised she would come home and talk about things I thought she was too young for me to expose her to, like traffic signs.”

Del Castillo, too, has benefited from joining BKS. She teaches her business seminars at a community Starbucks on Broadway, close to the center her youngest daughter attends. She said the sessions have helped her exercise her public speaking skills and connected her to new customers — now, she is looking to expand her business.

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.

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