“It’s a great place to get your feet wet, try different things and make mistakes, but not be weeded out. You can learn and grow here.”
Zubeen Saeed, President and CEO of Building Blocks Learning Center, first started babysitting while she was a student at Cabrini University. It started off as a way to pay for school, but her side gig soon became her passion. In 2000, she found out that a daycare was for sale in Wilkes-Barre, so she left Lansdale and moved to NEPA to start her own childcare center.
At first, Zubeen was the sole employee and had about 30 children in her care. But within six months, she had the opportunity to open a second location. And another. And another. Today, Building Blocks serves over 600 students at 9 locations throughout Luzerne County. And with two new locations on the horizon, the company continues to grow and support the community, especially through the challenges of COVID-19.
Zubeen currently lives in the calm, close-knit community of Mountain Top, just a quick drive from her office in Wilkes-Barre’s historic district. We sat down to talk about why NEPA is a strong foundation to start a business, raise a family and follow your dreams.
How long have you lived in NEPA?
21 years now.
What brought you to NEPA?
I lived in the Philadelphia/Lansdale area and was working from home, just going to school and babysitting. When semesters were off in the summer, I would do it full-time. I started getting a great groove of working with the children and just enjoyed it a lot. I did it for five years and had sixty-some children in my care. My parents were like, “Are you graduating? What’s happening? You’re just going to babysit?” I didn’t know what I was going to do.
My parents lived up here in the Hazleton area. One day, my mom was like, “Hey, there’s a daycare business in Wilkes-Barre by The Woodlands. It shut down, unfortunately. Why don’t you run your babysitting out of it?” So in 2000, I came here and started making the connections and opened it. I loved what I was doing on a smaller scale, and randomly, an opportunity posed itself here.
Did anything surprise you about NEPA?
There’s so much opportunity in the sense that people were willing to help. When I came here, I was asking the Chamber things. I was asking local businesses, “How do you start up here? Who can I call? Where’s the zoning office?” Everybody was just supportive of trying to open a place. Nobody shut the door. For myself, having no business experience, it felt so comfortable. I had thought about opening in Lansdale or Philadelphia, but you’re lost in the crowd there. You need a lot of capital. You need to know the right people. And there’s so many regulations that it’s hard for a startup to try it out. But I found that this area helped me do that.
What do you love about your town?
I think it’s where everyone knows your name. Like in Cheers, they’re always like, “Norm!” The reason he goes to that bar every day is that he’s valued and acknowledged. He feels he’s at home. He’s respected. For me, I wanted to open a childcare center where, when the child walks in, we’re like, “Johnny!” I feel when children are talked to—not talked at—and where they feel they belong, they’re going to thrive. And I feel, in essence, this area does that to me. I feel I belong here. People know who I am, not because I own a business, but because it’s a smaller area and people stop to get to know you. In the big city, you’re lost, and you don’t have the sense of community to help support you. But here, it just was like a nucleus. I want our students to feel it, but I feel that for myself and for my daughters who were brought up here too.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
I like the trails. There are a lot of different trails that I don’t know about, but my kids do. They always like to go and see the scenery. And the movies, when the movies were up and running. We enjoyed that a lot. Just getting involved in the city down here has been really nice.
What’s next for you?
For me at this stage, the next chapter is that I want to leave a legacy and leave an imprint on the community. I’ve been working with our Chamber and with different programs. We’re getting more involved with how communities are developing and how we can support other businesses. That’s what I’m looking to do in the next five years.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
I think in the last few years—and even with COVID—there’s this momentum of progression going on that I’m excited to see. I think more things are coming here that are neat and trendy and cultural. I want to be part of that, whether a museum is coming here or an awesome restaurant or a great place for families to go. I feel a lot of people are coming to this area, knowing those opportunities are available. I’m excited to see what that means to us.
We’re on the map. We can go to major metropolitan cities if we want. We can have the nature aspect of it and a quiet surrounding if you want. And there are opportunities here. I just love it here. It gives me validation. It gives me support. It’s a foundation. And it’s just a great environment to be in. It’s a great place to get your feet wet, try different things and make mistakes, but not be weeded out. You can learn and grow here.