Marie Ronise was 15 years old when she received “a strange phone call.” She had moved to the United States from Haiti at age 12, and had been left with cousins in Miami after her mother passed away. Her brother had been sent to live with family in Williamston, 45 miles south of Flint.
The woman’s voice on the phone that day sounded unfamiliar. “She kept saying Michigan. We want you to come to Michigan so you can visit your brother,” Ronise recalls.
Ronise ended up staying in the state, although it was not easy at first. The only black student at her Williamston high school, she spent a year being teased, bullied, and excluded. “To me, some situations I just look at them and I keep moving,” she says. “My best medicine is to keep my head up and keep smiling. That’s what I live by.” Her strategy has served her well. Ronise moved to Lansing to live with a pastor’s family, graduating in 1994, and two years later married a man from Flint, where she has lived since. “I feel pretty welcome here,” she says.
Her actions alone show her gratitude. After earning an associate’s degree in childcare and caring for children in her home, Ronise leased a building in 2010 and opened Unique Children’s Center, a daycare committed to helping what she calls “the whole family.” She has five full-time employees and one part-time assistant, all of whom were born in the United States.
If families are genuinely struggling to pay their childcare bills, Ronise does not kick the child out of daycare; she helps the family, at times even forgiving their childcare debt. She buys diapers, food, gas. Once a year, she and her husband give a used car to a family without transportation. “I tell my daycare parents, the mission is not just about your child. It’s about the family as a whole,” she says.
“I believe that God has placed the opportunity to help in my hands,” Ronise says. “You just try to help because that’s how the community will be better.”