Melba Al-Sayagh grew up in Mexico and came to America when she was only 20 years old – decades ago. After a brief stop in California she

Melba (right) along with her daughter Beneen (left) received consulting from Lincoln Littles’ Workforce Manager, Julie Jones-Branch (center).

landed in Lincoln, with the promise of cheaper rent and more job opportunities.

She didn’t speak English well and was so scared she often cried herself to sleep.

Eventually she brought her parents to Lincoln and found work at Kawasaki where she met her future husband. They raised four daughters together and in 2019, her husband opened an Arabic market. The family thrived and all was well.

But Melba had a quiet dream that she had held close to her heart for decades. She wanted to open her own childcare center. “Yes, my husband has provided well for our family,” she said. “But I also wanted to provide and earn my own share of money.”

Years after her arrival in America, that dream is finally in sight thanks to an incredible array of Lincoln resources and support, specifically from Lincoln Littles and the ECHO Collective.

Melba already knows what she will name her place: “Las Estrellitas,” which means “The Little Star.”

“I feel confident and nervous, all at the same time,” she said. “Everything is coming together, and I know I can do this. But I still have butterflies in my stomach.”

When she was a young woman, she used to teach school in Mexico while her mother operated a home preschool. But she also remembers the frustration. “I wanted to go to school, but tuition was impossible. There were no opportunities, no security. Kids stopped coming to school. I knew I needed a way out.”

These days she loves her home in Lincoln and appreciates all their good fortune. But she has never let go of the hope to find a future in childcare.

“When I was younger, I would take care of all my nieces and nephews.  They’d follow me around. People were always asking me for advice about their children.

“But that was a long time ago, and I didn’t feel capable. I was trying to make a living, then I was raising my kids. And I think it’s especially hard as a Mexican woman to feel confident, to find a place where you can say, ‘I don’t have to give up on all my dreams.’”

Today her daughters are 6, 15, 17 and 20 – and she thinks the moment is finally right. “This is my time. My husband is supportive. My daughters can help me in business. I believe I can be a woman, a mom, a worker, a student.  I don’t have to feel guilty about taking a risk, taking a chance.”

Melba (standing), attended Lincoln Littles Childcare Teachers Foundation Orientation with her niece, Mayola (left to right) and her daughters, Nour and Beneen.

Beneen Al-Sayagh, her eldest daughter, is proud of her mom. “I’ve always noticed how kids are drawn to her. My mom is so patient, she can handle a lot. And she has a goal, she has hope, and that makes me feel happy for her.”

Watching her mom take a leap of faith as she sets the stage for creating a business, Beneen says she’s grateful for the opportunities her mom has been given. “I see her come back from a meeting, a class, and I see she is eager to learn even more.”

Melba started her learning journey with classes at ECHO Collective, a local nonprofit that empowers refugee and immigrant women to open their own businesses.

“A lot of immigrant and refugee women do not know how to manage the basics of a business,” she explains. “The Collective helped by allowing me to start giving shape to my idea. They taught me how to promote, invest, market. They taught me so much.”

Their most powerful lesson? “First you have a goal, then you start asking questions. You need to overcome the fear of asking. And maybe the person you ask doesn’t know the answer, but they can always connect you with someone who does. And suddenly you have a network of people who are willing to help.”

Next step after ECHO: Signing up for the Childcare Teacher Foundations Class through Lincoln Littles, a passionate group of advocates urging the creation of more quality early childcare opportunities.

“Not only is Lincoln Littles helping me actually envision my dream,” Melba says, “they are teaching me the nuts and bolts of making it happen. I am figuring out accounting, insurance, finding staff.”

And they are urging her to dream big.

“She was thinking about establishing home childcare, but we are asking her, ‘Why not open a center?’” says Julie Jones-Branch, Workforce Manager for Lincoln Littles.

Melba is such an inspiring woman, Jones-Branch says.  “She is modeling so much for her daughters. How to take those courageous steps. How to be brave.”

Currently Melba is looking for the best location and the appropriate funding.  “I want to take children from infancy through school age. I want to help them preserve their primary languages, offering lessons in Spanish and Arabic.”

She has hurdles.

“I think the hardest part is finding the right people to contact to find loans, grants, financing.”

And yet, she stresses, the dream is coming together.

“My mom is amazing,” Beneen says. “Her daughters, her family, will be there to help her out. We will not let her do this alone.”

Melba says she would encourage all women to aim for their dreams. “I would tell them to go for it. It’s not easy. You may fail sometimes. Some days I’m working really hard and I’m not sure about the future. But then I look back and see what I’ve accomplished so far, and I feel so good.”

She laughs when people call her brave.

“I tell them I have had so many nice people who support me. I want everyone to know about places like ECHO Collective and Lincoln Littles.  They are helping so many people, not just me, and I am grateful. God bless you all.”