Getting lost in translation can be a challenging and even frightening experience to endure. Lynn Olson wants to do everything she can to help adults avoid these circumstances through a one-of-a-kind non profit she runs with her business partner, Teresa Schweitzer-Quieju.
The two proudly oversee the daily operations of Language Central, Inc. in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area. The nonprofit was initially launched in April 2013 and took on its 501(c)3 organization status in September 2013. The business has a 6-member board of directors.
Olson describes how Language Central functions.
“We are a language school,” she says. “We teach adults English as a second language and Spanish for traveling purposes and for those involved in the medical profession. We teach hospital personnel and midwives.”
She points to the fact that she and her business partner have skills that complement each other well as a big reason for getting the nonprofit off the ground.
“My partner has been working in public schools for 17 years teaching Spanish and English as a second language,” she says. “I have been a lawyer and a judge for the last 34 years. I was a teacher before that career, and I went to Guadalajara last year and became certified as an ESL instructor.”
They chose a specific area in the Minneapolis region for the nonprofit because of its large population of Latin Americans and Somalis. The school has a physical location in a building where the business rents out space. Classes are generally held in 10-week sessions, and students have ranged in age from 18 to 68.
Despite its nonprofit designation, Language Central does charge for its classes, but it offers special arrangements for students who are unable to afford them. It also receives financial contributions from individuals, foundations, and neighborhood associations. The school also takes students on trips to other countries in order to gain practical experience by using their newly learned languages in real-world situations.
According to Olson, the flexibility of her nonprofit in terms of working around students’ schedules is what truly separates it from others. In fact, the school had just two students early on and rapidly grew to 56 within just two months.
“It’s been quite an interesting cultural experience for all of us,” she says.
In her words, it’s the teaching experiences that she finds most enjoyable about being one of the many small business owners doing what they love.
“I’m doing this because I love teaching and working with students,” she says. “I remember one student I had who came to class and said she was so confused. After I worked with her, I saw her eyes light up, and she said, ‘Now I understand.’”
The majority of small business owners are up against others who sell similar products or services. Olson knows of a similar literacy school near her, but she says Language Central is unique enough and doesn’t exactly compete against them.
“We did a survey and found that this location was the least served area for teaching second languages,” she says. “We ask our students what their working hours are and when they are available. Then we tailor our class schedules around their outside obligations. We hold classes Monday through Saturday in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Other schools usually have more set schedules.”
Spreading The Word About The Nonprofit
Olson explains how making personal connections with the local community has been the key ingredient to making others aware of Learning Central.
“We call ourselves streetwalkers,” she jokes of herself and her business partner. “Last fall, we literally walked up and down the street covering every restaurant, store, bakery, and any business we could find. Most of these places are owned by Latin Americans or Somalis. They’ve really embraced us. We put up posters and distributed flyers and business cards in these businesses and in medical facilities.”
Pushing forward through challenging situations is the name of the game for all small business owners. Olson has been no exception to enduring some difficult circumstances.
“Keeping students in class and interested when they have multiple responsibilities and problems can be tough,” she says. “Keeping the classes as flexible as possible is the biggest challenge. I also have to make them fun and easy so that the students don’t feel as if they will never learn the languages.”
Tips For Current & Aspiring Small Business Owners
Olson’s advice for current small business owners or those looking to take the leap of faith is to be persistent and creative. In her case, she penned a letter to the IRS that explained how she was receiving a large grant for her nonprofit. Doing so expedited the process of getting 501(c)3 organization status for it in just weeks. She has heard of others who have waited over a year to receive this designation.
“Keep on top of everything. Find friends who will help you through the process. Know all the skills your friends and family members have. Find as many resources out there that don’t require you to spend money.”
She notes that there are both positives and negatives that come along with owning a small business.
“You spend lots of time on administrative work that your employer would be doing if you were an employee,” she says. “You have to pick a team – or a board of directors in my case – that is truly willing to help and work for you. Overall, though, this has been a very rewarding experience.”
Small Business & Non Profit Accounting Support through 1-800Accountant
As a client of 1-800Accountant, Olson says she has been quite satisfied with the national accounting and business consulting firm’s support.
“1-800Accountant has been really helpful,” Olson says. “There were two big things I completely neglected when getting my 501c) 3 organization status set up. The rep from 1-800Accountant helped me finish this up and cover it all. The IRS had no questions and completely accepted my application.”
Olson says she would absolutely recommend 1-800Accountant to anyone seeking non profit accounting assistance and small business owners of all types.
Image credit: The logo was provided by Language Central, Inc. and is used with permission.