For children, she defied the odds

By Fran Farrer
The County News

During her end of year assessment as Fran Witherspoon was approaching high school graduation her counselor told her the best she could hope for was to become a waitress in a restaurant. But she defied those odds. Witherspoon now owns 4 childcare facilities.

The driving force behind Witherspoon’s success was a documentary she viewed over twenty years ago. At that time she was the mother of two young sons. Statistics from the documentary revealed that in 20-years most Black males would be in jail or have a bleak future, and their life expectancy was short. There was no bright future in sight.

Witherspoon looked at her two boys and said, “That’s not going to happen, the buck stops here.”

She had no childcare experience beyond raising her sons, but had already defied her counselor’s expectations by graduating from one of Charlotte’s premier institutions of higher learning, Johnson C. Smith University with a business administration degree with a concentration on management.

Witherspoon knew that education was the only way out not only for her sons, but for all children and education had to provide the basic foundation.

With no personal teaching degree, Witherspoon sought after opening an establishment for children where she could provide a solid foundation beginning with pre-k, and hired the best educators she could afford. She opened her first home daycare center in 1990 in her home – Fran’s Kids #1 off of Rozzelle’s Ferry Road in Charlotte. With the growing need for childcare, it wasn’t long before Fran’s Kids #2 was opened on Columbus Circle.

Still seeking to aid the growing need, Witherspoon opened the third Fran’s Kids location on Beatties Ford Road, which soon became the main office, and with that she closed the Columbus Circle sight. The Beatties Ford Road sight had 3 physical buildings, and to abide by state rulings, each had to have its own name: The Marie Annex, Fran’s Kids Afterschool Program, and Fran’s Kids #3.

Witherspoon admits that the more she got into it, the deeper it got. The Belvedere Homes apartment complex owned by the City of Charlotte, and managed by Charlotte’s Housing Authority had reached a point of ruin that could not be recovered, and was demolished. Located directly across from the Salvation Army’s Boys & Girls Club, Belvedere Apartments boys and girls were the feeder children for the club. In a partnership with the housing authority, when the children left, the Salvation Army had no choice but to close. This also caused neighborhood concern because many residents voted at the club. The building stood empty for approximately two years.

In 2005, Witherspoon’s husband found the building was empty and she immediately had her realtor contact the city. They were excited, and did all they could to make sure of an easy sale. The City of Charlotte preferred a childcare facility over an office complex.

Witherspoon was even able to keep most of the buildings logo, but to avoid conflict, club was replaced with center. Fran’s Kids Boys & Girls Center would become the fourth location, and to that end the home daycare was closed.

Witherspoon is all about partnerships and offering assistance to other businesses and organizations. The teams and cheerleaders bear her name, but are often owned, run, or managed by others. This is her first full year of having a league.

Having a 501-C3 helps Witherspoon to feed children during the summer while they no longer get free lunches. Even the 501-C3 has a purposeful name: ACCEPT WC (Adults Challenging Children Every Possible Time We Can).

After seven years Witherspoon continued to up-fit the building, and says the last leg of repairs and refurbishing would not have been possible without the assistance of the CXX employee team, who have built shelters, cleaned, mowed, done repair, just far too much to mention.

Blessed beyond measure, Witherspoon credits her husband Johnny, who she began dating in 9th grade, and has been her faithful partner for 30-years; her sons, Travis (25) and Tyla (23) both NC A&T graduates, and Johnny III (19) an NC A&T student; and her mom Marie Antoinette Arnold, who is and always has been her support – and always has her back.

To the counselor Witherspoon can only say, “You need to re-access.”

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