Strong Relationship Helps Organization Support Kids with Special Needs

Sheri Canfield knows how important it is to support people who need it. When her 2-year-old son, Alex, began to show signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), she looked for the resources that could help. When she discovered there weren’t enough, she created The Spotted Zebra Learning Center.

The Spotted Zebra provides education services to children who are developing typically and for those identified with special needs through a uniquely integrated program. The first school year in 2005 started with 10 children before quickly ballooning to 40. The need in the greater community was clearly there. But Sheri needed something, too. She needed a financial partner who believed in her vision. 

She found that person in Bob Bazargan. 

Bob, now Vice President of Commercial Lending for Community Bank, N.A., was a board member for a similarly focused organization when he met Sheri in 2008. By then, The Spotted Zebra had grown to offer a kindergarten program, and it looked like the growth would continue. Sheri recalls clearly the first time she met Bob and he toured the facility. 

I’ll never forget his enthusiasm,” Sheri said. Bob walked into my office to personally introduce himself and he said, This is unbelievable, you have to do more!’ We’ve never had anyone in the banking industry support us like he did. He gave us the feeling that we had his support to do more.”

And more” is exactly what Sheri and The Spotted Zebra have done. In 2014, Bob helped guide Sheri to finance a new 14,000-square-foot space that she still occupies today. The next year, the program began providing early intervention services for children 0-3 years old. Bob helped Sheri acquire new equipment for children with sensory needs through a loan with the Albany County Chamber. Subsequently, new programs like the Bizzy Beez Activity Center and the Speckled Zebra have been added, as well as programs for adults with autism. 

My other banks didn’t know me. They didn’t know who I was or what kind of a business we were. As a new client of Community Bank, when we needed help, we got somebody who knew you by name, who was willing to have a conversation. It’s a personal experience.”

He’s given me the confidence to do these kinds of things,” Sheri said. If you don’t have someone like him in your corner, it’s almost too much to stomach sometimes. I don’t think we’d be this far without Bob.” She could tell Bob understood that the programs were proving much-needed services for the community. He recognized the potential, knew it was real, and provided the necessary professional perspective to augment the personal hope that often felt like the guiding force of it all.

Roughly 50 to 60 percent of her business comes from schools in the local municipalities which send kids over there because they’re finding out that this type of therapy is really working,” Bob said. Their main competitive advantage is the fact that the majority of their staff are very good in their industry, they’re very well known, and they’ve been with Sheri since the beginning, and that’s really their core.”

Sheri said she appreciates the difference that the relationship makes when things are difficult, saying it turns a tough conversation into a friendly one that, more times than not, ends in the right place.

My other banks didn’t know me. They didn’t know who I was or what kind of a business we were. As a new client of Community Bank, when we needed help, we got somebody who knew you by name, who was willing to have a conversation. It’s a personal experience.”

Starting just with a vision as a parent and having the ability to make it come true and continue to move it forward, it’s been an incredible experience,” Sheri said. The kids that we touch, and when I see them now and they’re grown, looking at colleges, with confidence—it’s humbling.”


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