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“Finding $1,000 Start-Ups was such a blessing.”

~ Kati McClurg Co-Founder/Co-Director Rain Lily Montessori


Kati McLurg, Rain Lily Montessori

In this new $1,000 Start-Ups Series we will Feature Cohort Graduates and their businesses. We will check in to discuss their business growth, challenges, and goals, as well as to understand the impact of their participation in the program.Recently, we spoke with Kati McClurg, Co-Founder/Co-Director of Rain Lily Montessori.

As a dedicated Montessori Educator, Kati McClurg recognized a need in her community to expand the opportunity for more families to benefit from Maria Montessori’s vision for education that nurtures each child’s natural desire for knowledge, understanding, and respect.  

“I have mixed race daughters and my business partner, Tania, is a Cuban immigrant. Neither of us saw any children that looked like ours in the typical Montessori setting. That planted the seed that one day we would like to open a school on Amelia Island that looked more like our families and that was inclusive.”

When Covid hit, Kati took time off to be at home with her daughters as they attended school online. Intrigued by the idea of opening her own Montessori school, she began to explore the feasibility of that idea. She discovered the Wildflower Network of Schools, which guides teachers through the process of envisioning, planning, and opening their own Wildflower Montessori School. 

“As I was reading about Wildflower, I thought, They are literally speaking our language. I haven’t heard anyone speak this language. They know our hearts, and so we reached out.”

“We were first told that they didn’t have any Wildflower Schools in Florida and they didn’t think it was possible right now.” Undeterred, Kati initiated the process of preparing the comprehensive portfolio required to begin the Wildflower Start-Up Journey. She called back and said, “We’re ready and we can do this.” After reviewing her portfolio, they agreed that she was ready.

With her partner temporarily unable to be involved during this early stage, Kati felt alone and wondered if she could do this by herself. Kati met Leah Ward-Lee, Co-Founder and Director of $1,000 Start-Ups at an event at Staples where Leah was talking to customers about the $1,000 Start-Ups Program. Kati was there to deliver a bracelet that her daughter had made and Leah had ordered.  Leah told Kati and her daughter about the program and gave her a business card.

Several weeks later Kati called Leah. Impressed with Kati’s background in the Peace Corps and her commitment to affordable early childhood education, she encouraged her to apply to the program. Kati enrolled in the $1,000 Startups 2021 Cohort to move forward with starting her school.

Through the program’s extensive curriculum, guest speakers, and practical assignments, Kati learned about the logistical, financial, marketing, and bureaucratic aspects of business, but found the network of the $1,000 Start-Ups Cohort to be just as valuable. 

“Leah and my Cohort made me believe that I could succeed, which was really important, and they helped me find my voice and helped me stick with it. Leah pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you feel like, Oh I can do anything. If you paid for the services that the $1,000 Start-Ups program offers, none of us could have afforded it and then you also get $1,000 to help you get through it.”

Leah says of Kati’s participation, She was the cohort member who didn’t miss class, was always on time and prepared, and who, with her responsibilities as a single parent raising two teenagers during a pandemic, found time to help anyone who needed it. This is a powerful aspect of why this program works.”

With tremendous support from the Wildflower Network of Schools, Rain Lily Montessori School, located at 2898 Bailey Road, Fernandina Beach, FL. enrolled its first students in January of 2023. As a Primary Montessori School, Rain Lily serves children ages 3-6. Tuition is based on a tiered model; ⅓ high income, ⅓ middle income, and ⅓ low income, to ensure economic diversity as well as cultural diversity. 

“We want people in underserved and at-risk communities to know that we support and care about them, so we do more than just advertising. We show up for them as allies.”

Kati asked Leah to be the officiant for the Rain Lily Montessori School ribbon cutting ceremony.  “It was an event to be remembered.  Every member of the $1,000 Start-Ups 2021 Cohort and those from the 2020 pilot and the 2022 Cohort attended, as did friends and family. There was so much love gathered there. Little did either of us know that when I pulled over to take Kati’s initial phone call… I was parked directly across the street from where Rain Lily Montessori School would eventually open,” recalls Leah. 

As for the future of Rain Lily Montessori, Kati and Tania are pleased with the age range and capacity of the current program.  Their hope is to expand the diversity of the student population by enrolling more cultural, racial, and familial diversity, as well as socioeconomic diversity. Being directly involved with the local community, Rain Lily participates in neighborhood and community events, such as Juneteenth, Fernandina Beach Pride, and other community celebrations.

When asked if she would recommend $1,000 Start-Ups to entrepreneurs, Kati replied, “You can’t even put a value on it because it’s just beyond. It’s hard to start a business and if you’re a woman or if you are from the global majority, there’s a huge challenge to starting your business and I’m just so grateful that this Program is there for underserved people who don’t always have opportunities. Leah is 100% in and she’s always there for everybody. I still hear Leah’s voice leading me on. She is like the pebble tossed into the water and we are the ripples spreading out and it feels so good to share that knowledge with other people.”

You can learn more about Rain Lily Montessori and see photos on their website, Facebook, and Instagram


Tuition is never charged to participants in the $1,000 Start-Ups Program. Students are offered up to $1,000 in financial support. If you are interested in contributing toward a full or partial sponsorship of a student, please visit our donation page by clicking the button below.

Ways to support $1,000 Start-Ups
Rain Lily Montessori School

Upcoming Community Events

2024 Turtle Fest - Beach Junki

Saturday April 20, 2024
10am – 3pm

Main Beach, Fernandina Beach

Come celebrate our Mother Earth and the arrival of nesting sea turtles! We are planning a family friendly, fun filled day, with a Kids Korner, live music, food trucks, and a Vendor Village. Our goal is to share important information with the community about the global issues of plastic pollution and the negative affects to sea turtles. The purpose for this event is to help attendees learn ways to save the earth and sea turtles in a fun but educational way. Vendor space is available for $40. Click Here for info.

Elm Park1200 Elm St, Fernandina Beach

The annual April tradition, the Pride Family Picnic, is returning to Elm Park/MLK Recreational Center on Saturday, April 27 between 11am and 1pm. Bring your family and your lunch and stop by the pavilion to hang out with Fernandina Beach Pride and our ally network. We’ll have music, games, and a free CPR class/demo provided by Nassau County Medical Reserve Corps. All ages welcome! No alcohol, please.


2024 Fernandina Beach Pride Family Picnic