GRAND FORKS, ND – When a couple suddenly felt called to open a local day care, a Gate City Bank business lender went to unimaginable lengths to bring it to fruition.
Stephen and Dee Decimus Holmes know firsthand how whimsically insistent the universe can be. It has a reputation for upending our big life plans to clear the way for something unexpected – something better. At the end of the day, one can’t dismiss destiny; what’s meant to be will simply be.
And the message usually comes across pretty clear.
In the year leading up to their marriage in May 2021, the Holmeses began to experience something they couldn’t explain, an unrelenting inkling that would heighten every time they drove past the seemingly insignificant abandoned lot at 624 N Washington St. Day after day, as they commuted to and from work, the impression placed on their hearts would be impossible to ignore – “This needs to be a day care.”
“It started with my husband. He’d bring up this random idea of opening a day care in that specific spot. I’d respond with, ‘OK, honey. Whatever you say,’” Holmes chuckles. “We’re busy entrepreneurs with two kids, so we were at full capacity. Plus, we weren’t even sure if the property was for sale. Even if it was, we didn’t have the money. It was totally out of our wheelhouse, but God kept nudging us.”
Little did the couple know, that divine persistence would turn out to be extremely good news for Grand Forks. The community had been experiencing an unprecedented child care crisis in recent years, with multiple facilities closing their doors – either temporarily or for good – due to a crippling labor shortage. Parents would suddenly find themselves without day care, and they’d be forced to stay home from work.
As the months went on, the confounding and unshakable impulse to open a day care only intensified for the Holmeses. Then one day, they received a sign – a “for sale” sign, to be exact. And for reasons neither of them could even begin to fathom, they turned onto the property, shifted into park and switched off the engine.
To this day, the Holmeses laugh and shake their heads whenever they reminisce about the irrational excitement they felt while drafting up a business plan. In true die-hard-entrepreneur fashion, it was during their honeymoon, while they were sitting down to what was supposed to be a relaxing dinner at their favorite steak house. But this just couldn’t wait. They snagged a corner booth, plucked a napkin and began to scribble ideas. In between bites, a beautiful vision came to life.
“We sketched out the logo, discussed the timeline and even registered the business,” Holmes says, adding that the business would feature a unique hands-on learning model for kiddos. “We also landed on a name – El Way Child Care and Learning Center. This whole undertaking had seemed so impossible from the very beginning, but God kept showing us ‘the way.’ We couldn’t think of more perfect words.”
Before the newlyweds picked up the check, they jotted down one final reminder on their notes napkin. And to this day, they thank their lucky stars that they did – because it would ultimately prove crucial to making El Way possible.
“Call Darryl at Gate City Bank.”
Darryl Jorgenson had grown to know the Holmeses well in recent years, while helping them secure a handful of loans for their other businesses, All-Embracing Home Health Care and Horizon Property Management. From day one, he saw how truly salt-of-the-earth they are, and he has cherished their friendship ever since. So when the couple’s name popped up on his caller ID once again in spring 2022, he cracked a warm smile.
“Stephen and Dee have always wanted to help people, and they knew there was a huge need for day care,” says Jorgenson, Assistant Vice President, Business Lender at Gate City Bank. “When they reached out to talk about potential financing options, I was blown away by how on top of things they were.”
The Holmeses had secured $375,000 in grant funds from the state of North Dakota. (Just enough to cover the down payment.) They had connected with the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation to get ahead of workforce needs. They had even opened up their business model – and their hearts – to include a special-needs and youth facility that was unexpectedly grandfathered into the deal.
When it finally came time to get estimates on mortgage and renovation loans for the day care, Jorgenson was extra excited to help – because this one hit extra close to home. Years back, as a single dad doing his best to raise two boys while serving in the U.S. Navy, there were often days where day care would fall through, and he would be left with a torn sense of duty. He didn’t wish that on anyone.
Given the Holmes’ strained capital situation, Jorgenson knew they faced a few initial hurdles in terms of the loan application process, but that didn’t faze him in the least. The task was anything but impossible, and he had unwavering faith in the couple’s vision. He was bound and determined to see it through.
Upon wrapping up his initial El Way call with the Holmeses, Jorgenson pocketed his phone, snatched up the keys to his pickup and bolted out the door to visit the property – it was time to get to work.
Initially, everything went smoothly. The good news was that certain parts of the lot – such as an outdoor playground area and most of the main existing building’s structural framework – could easily be salvaged, which helped cut costs. Soon, however, the headaches started to trickle in. Literally.
“There was water in the basement. The roof needed attention. The HVAC system had issues. The wear and tear was pretty extensive,” Jorgenson says. “The deeper we dug into what it would take to remodel, the more we realized how large the project’s scope would be, way more than what we had thought.”
The loan requirements nearly tripled overnight. And with the Holmeses already stretching their personal liquidity to its limits to cover day-to-day needs for their other businesses, money was tighter than ever. Jorgenson went out of his way to calm the waters, offering flexibility in multiple areas, especially when it came to adjusting timelines. He was in their corner constantly – a lender insomuch with an added helpful touch.
“Darryl is a miracle worker. He’s amazing,” Holmes says, adding that Jorgenson even took it upon himself to help handle communication and logistics with contractors, insurance agents and other third parties, to keep the loan application progressing. “I can’t tell you how many hours he put into this project. I’d get emails in the evening, at 5 a.m. He just kept going above and beyond. There’s no other person or bank who would have done that for us.”
And it all paid off. El Way officially opened its doors on May 22, 2023, the Holmes’ one-year wedding anniversary. Naturally, Jorgenson was Johnny-on-the-spot to help them celebrate, as were many other community friends and partners. There was one particular guest, however, who would make the day extra special – and what she had to say would knock the Holmeses off their feet.
May 22 was an especially bright day in Grand Forks. The sun was shining, excited community members were mingling and the happy colors of the newly unveiled El Way logo were glistening for all to see. On its first day, the business was already fully staffed and at 50% capacity, a dream evidenced by the laughing children playing blissfully throughout the grounds. It was a beautiful picture – almost perfect.
Overcome with sheer joy at the thought that their impossible day care had actually become a reality, the Holmeses temporarily stepped away from the crowd to take everything in. As they stood together, beaming at the sight of a once-dead lot flourishing with new life, a grinning church friend slowly approached them from a nearby group and extended a friendly hello.
After expressing to the Holmeses how wonderful El Way was and how greatly she appreciated them bringing it to the community, the woman paused briefly and looked off toward the property, as if in intense search of the right words to say next. She then returned her gaze and shared with the couple something they’ve marveled at every day since, and will never forget for the rest of their lives.
“She said she didn’t mean to bother us, but there was something we needed to know,” Holmes says. “For the better part of two years, starting around what turns out to be the time my husband and I got engaged, she had been praying diligently that a day care would open on this lot. It brought me to tears.”
An answered prayer for day care, no doubt.
A few months in, El Way and the beloved children it serves are thriving. The business continues to steadily grow, and the Holmeses expect it to be at full capacity in no time. Together, they’ve discovered a new kind of joy, and an amplified appreciation for the community they call home.
“We just love Grand Forks. Our heart belongs to the people here,” Holmes says. “We also cherish our close relationship with Darryl and everyone at Gate City Bank. It was definitely God’s plan for us to partner with them.”
For Jorgenson, the feeling is mutual. While he can’t explain it, from the very beginning, he knew in his heart that he was meant to help with this project. It’s given him a new sense of purpose.
“To help an organization like this, which is meeting a dire community need, is a privilege,” he says. “It’s not even work.”
At the end of the day, both Jorgenson and the Holmeses agree: When something better presents itself in this life, no matter how unnerving or nonsensical the undertaking may seem, with just a glimmer of hope and a little bit of faith – there’s always a way.
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