In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Regions is celebrating business owners who make a difference in the communities they serve.
Mercedes Fleming comes from a family of educators. Her grandmother and aunts on her father’s side were teachers in her native Ecuador.
But when Fleming moved to New Jersey at age 17, with both a high school and an associate degree, her dream of following the family tradition had to be put on hold.
Despite English lessons in school, she wasn’t yet fluent. While she had a place to live, thanks to her family, she needed to find a job. Then another. For two years, often working three to four jobs at a time, she put everything she could into savings. At age 27, she became a single mother, and her son gave her a new reason to succeed as she continued to move toward her goal of opening her own school.
“To be honest, I know it was God’s plan,” she said. “It all happened without me thinking much about it.”
Fast-forward, and her dream has been more than fulfilled. In fact, it’s growing. She opened her preschool in 2003.
Learning Together Academy serves up to 100 children daily, from toddlers to elementary and middle school students who come for after-school care. Many of those students attended preschool here in previous years.
The preschool is in Margate, just west of Pompano Beach in Broward County, Florida.
The emphasis is on academic fundamentals, discipline, manners and plenty of hugs. And it has been a huge success.
“We teach the kids that if you’re coming to our school, you’re going to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and you’re going to respect your peers, teachers, parents and other adults,” Fleming said.
The current plan is to move to a new building the academy purchased by working with Regions bankers Michael Vorbe and Rana Diedrick. By no longer paying rent, Fleming believes this provides the preschool longer-term stability.
“The local relationship team worked collaboratively to get to a solution for Mercedes and her family, and we were thrilled to have been able to come through,” said Vorbe, a commercial banking relationship manager.
“They helped me through the loan and through the entire process,” Fleming said. “They were so patient and responded to every question I had instantly. And that made my life easier. Before Regions, I tried all these different banks. They’d say, ‘no.’ But Regions said, ‘Let’s see how you can do this.’”
As a teen, Fleming was blessed with a new life and fell in love with a new country. In the years since, she’s followed in the footsteps of hard-working parents.
Married at 40 to Dean Fleming, she added a second child while making sure she takes care of those entrusted to her on a daily basis.
“Along the way, I’ve met one person after another who has blessed me,” Fleming said. “I see the hand of the Lord in everything I do.”