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Pregnant and made redundant, Zakiya starts a business

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Only two months before Zakiya Francis-Jones was due to give birth, she lost her job.

As hard as she tried she could not find a new one and having once been homeless did not want to find her way there again.

She was terrified she would not be able to provide for her newborn and her young son so she started her own business.

Always Best Senior Care Services offers mobile activities and caregiving for seniors and adults with disabilities. It is in line with the work she was doing at Westmeath Residential & Nursing Care Home before she lost her job.

“I got pregnant in December 2020 and in January my hours were cut short, like in half," said Ms Francis-Jones, who was made redundant from the Pembroke facility having worked there for almost two years. ”I was living in a two-bedroom at the time which I had to move out of with my son. I wasn’t understanding what was going on.

"My daughter was due on August 3. On June 9 they made me redundant from the position. I ended up losing my one-bedroom [having downsized only a few months earlier]. I was stressed, ill … I didn’t know what to do."

The 35-year-old moved into "the smallest studio on the island" that she could find and started planning a way to get back on her feet.

"Parents should be happy that they're having a baby. I was excited but I was also anxious and stressed because I had no more income."

Despite her troubles she did not want to sign up for government's financial assistance programme.

"It was a lot for me and I was staying with my children's father – we're still together – but it's just the simple fact that I'm so independent, I'm so used to having my own," said Ms Francis-Jones. "Maybe it was my pride but, because I wanted to provide for me and my kids, I was still going to job interviews."

She is grateful that her daughter, Musiq, arrived two weeks earlier than expected. A month later, with no job in sight, she decided to create her own.

With a stack of credentials behind her, senior care was the obvious solution. Ms Francis-Jones became interested in the career while working as a cook in a rest home where she enjoyed her time playing dominoes and interacting with residents.

A friend suggested she take a course at Bermuda College and Ms Francis-Jones began working towards her activity specialist certification.

"I went on to do activities with seniors around the island, going to their homes," she said. "But it really wasn’t going too well. It got hard. At one point I was sleeping in my car. I had nowhere to stay so I was bouncing between my car and my friend's house, wherever I could lay my head, for maybe about six months."

Desperate, she gave one son to her mother to care for and handed her other son to his grandmother. And then she got a job with Security Associates, having applied for a position with the company six months earlier.

"I went to the CEO of the company, Carlton Crockwell, and told him my story. I said, 'I'm sleeping in my car sometimes and I don’t have anywhere to stay but I just want to thank you for this opportunity, for allowing me to work for your company.' He told me everything's going to be fine from here on and he prayed with me. He gave me a job and I worked security for four or five years."

In 2018 she successfully completed her course at the college and heeded the advice of a colleague.

"She said, 'If you ever got the opportunity don’t stay at Security Associates. I want you to go and do what you want to do.'"

With that in mind, Ms Francis-Jones applied for a job as an activity aide at Westmeath. Following her interview she was offered the higher-paying activity assistant co-ordinator post.

"They actually gave me a higher position because of the qualification that I had and because I also have a business administration certification as well," she said.

"I created activities depending on the mobility of the client. If I have a patient that has dementia, activities for their fine motor skills is great, anything to do with memory. My job is to make seniors feel happy, to enjoy their daily living."

With all that behind her, after the birth of her daughter she reached out to Kennette Burgess of Focus Marketing & Development Solutions for help in creating a business plan, and got started.

"I provide mobile activities and caregiving for seniors. I also provide grooming services for them. I can come to your house and wash your hair, paint your nails, do your teeth, get you dressed – just make you feel good.

"We can come to your home and prep your meals for you, even cook for you. I also provide heavy duty cleaning services. Once Covid settles down a little bit I will be able to plan big, beautiful events. It might be a Sunday brunch or a picnic, a regular games night or even a happy hour."

With great "sacrifice" Ms Francis-Jones bought a van that can carry eight passengers and two wheelchairs. When it arrives in January she plans to use it to transport seniors for sightseeing and other events.

"Even if it's a Sunday drive; if [their caregiver] wants time for themselves because they've had to take care of their loved ones 24/7, we can ease them up. My job as the owner of this business is to make life easier for people around the island."

Although she has never run a business before she "gained a lot of experience working at Westmeath" Ms Francis-Jones said.

"I know how to operate during Covid-19. I wear my PPE gear. I wear the proper materials I need in order for me to come to your home. I get tested every week. I follow the proper protocols."

At the moment she has one staff member but is excited about growing the business and providing training where necessary.

Response so far has been "overwhelming" which has "pushed [her] more".

"People are out here rooting for me but they don’t really know my story. If I can help the next person who's going through or went through what I went through maybe they can [come to understand that] starting a business is the way to go. Nobody would hire me and it wasn’t because I wasn’t qualified, it was because I was pregnant."

Aside from developing her business and caring for her newborn, Ms Francis-Jones is busy with an online associate degree course in healthcare administration that she will complete this year.

"I'm also up the college [studying to become a] nursing assistant and I am already certified as an activity specialist and registered under the Bermuda Health Council as a caregiver. I do have the qualifications and the background and top-notch experience to start the business," she said.

"People ask me all the time how I fit it all in and I don’t know. It's determination I think. I'm tired, drained. My daughter is three months old and I wake up every morning at 6.30 and I get me and my daughter ready because I know I have to go to work. I'm just so glad that I have such an understanding nursery where she is able to keep my daughter sometimes when I have to work late. It's not easy but I know that this is what I have to do."

For more information on Always Best Senior Care Services: info@caregivingonthego.com; www.caregivingonthego.com; 519-5825. Follow @alwaysbestcaregivingservices on Facebook and alwaysbestseniorcareservices on YouTube.

Zakiya Francis-Jones, owner of Always Best Senior Care Services (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Zakiya Francis-Jones, owner of Always Best Senior Care Services (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published October 21, 2021 at 7:57 am (Updated October 22, 2021 at 8:05 am)

Pregnant and made redundant, Zakiya starts a business

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