A bonding experience Featured

10:19am EDT August 30, 2002

From all indications, Judith Reynolds isn't someone who has trouble adapting to new situations.

Reynolds has had a wide and varied career that includes working as a nurse in an acute care hospital, a nursing home, a home health care agency, a prison and with mentally handicapped adults. She's also worked as a private secretary and an emergency medical technician, as well as at a variety of other jobs.

Clearly, dealing with the new and unfamiliar isn't something she would shrink from.

"Obviously, she's a very bright, knowledgeable woman, particularly about her industry," says Bernie Sussman, a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives who has helped Reynolds through some business challenges, including one that nearly squashed the expansion of her business.

When Reynolds decided to expand her personal care business, the primary challenges appeared to be finding a location and getting the $500,000 project financed.

Reynolds, a Pittsburgh native, came back to the area from New York to care for her ailing elderly mother in 1993. An aunt, too, was in poor health, so she moved in with Reynolds as well. Later, an acquaintance asked her if she would take in a family member, and she found herself virtually in the personal care business.

However, to meet state regulatory requirements, Reynolds would have to be licensed to take in a fourth resident. She saw the situation as an opportunity to start a business, expanded her Dorseyville home with an SBA loan to accommodate eight residents and got a license to operate a personal care home, Cedarwood Personal Care.

By 2000, Reynolds was able to generate enough business to expand. She purchased the vacant Russelton Elementary School building in West Deer Township, got a tax abatement on the property and put together a plan to build a new facility, Cedarwood Circle, on the parcel.

Under state regulations, small personal care homes can house a maximum of eight residents. Any home with more than eight residents is subject to more regulation by the state.

"When you go into large personal care, you have a whole different set of regulations," says Reynolds.

Reynolds brought Sussman in to help her with the project. To avoid additional regulations, she decided to build four separate buildings on the site, each with enough space and facilities to accommodate eight residents.

The project was moving along until Reynolds hit an unexpected snag. While her lender was comfortable with the deal, the SBA at the eleventh hour insisted she take out a performance bond for the contractor, a stipulation that would have added about $30,000 to the cost of the project. Reynolds says that would have stopped the deal dead in its tracks.

"The bond would have sunk the deal," says Reynolds.

She was up against the clock with the contractor, who would have to go on to another project if financing wasn't in place by a certain date. So she turned to Sussman to try to find a way to make the deal work. Reynolds hoped he could help her through the red tape and around the roadblock.

"It looked like the whole deal was going to fail at that point," says Sussman. "I just started making a lot of calls to see if there wasn't a way to get around this regulation."

Sussman found a recently retired SBA employee who thought he might be able to get the agency to bend on the requirement for the performance bond.

Sussman's associate did some investigating and found several prominent individuals for whom the contractor had done work to vouch for him. Their testimonials, the SBA decided, were sufficient, and it waived the performance bond requirement.

The contractor broke ground for the first building on Cedarwood Circle last year, and it was completed on schedule in January, within 1 percent of the contractor's estimate. By April, it was fully occupied, and Reynolds is looking forward to completing the additional three buildings, one designed for hospice care that will be staffed by the nonprofit Peaceful Dwelling Place.

For Reynolds, the motivation to operate small personal care homes that have a family atmosphere rather than an impersonal feel comes from her experience as a nurse.

"I think when I set this up, it was out of wanting to do what I didn't have the time to do when I was a nurse," she says.

In addition to Reynolds' broad experience, drive and determination, Sussman attributes her success to being "very coachable" and knowing what she wants to achieve.

Says Sussman: "She has a great vision as to where she wants to be and how to get there."

And how to get the help she needs to do it. How to reach: Cedarwood Personal Care, www.timeforcare.net; Service Corps of Retired Executives, www.score.org, U.S. Small Business Administration, (412) 395-6560