For Charleston's West Side native Zachery Miller, hometown roots grow long and deep in West Virginia soil.
The old saying, "there's no place like home" rings loud and true for Miller, who decided to come back to where it all started for him in order to launch Kanawha Individual Development Solutions, or K.I.D.S., a community-based educational center.
"I knew this was exactly where I needed to be. I needed to do this on the West Side," Miller said. "It's where I started.
"This is where I'm from. This is where I grew up. This is the community that matters the most to me."
On Oct. 12, K.I.D.S debuted with its grand opening called "Paint the Town," which encouraged kids of all ages to create their own vision of the city alongside local artist Charly Hamilton as he painted his rendition of Charleston's West Side.
Miller said the grand opening "definitely generated some interest" and that people immediately noticed the space, energy and environment of the education center.
The center is open 3-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 2-8 p.m. Sunday. Scheduled visits also are available.
What K.I.D.S offers
K.I.D.S offers standard educational services that include individualized academic coaching, individualized learning assessments, core workshops, learning foundations and homework help.
Miller said educational instruction is based on the individual student's needs and tailored accordingly.
Once inside the center, with its display of artwork and exposed brick walls, students can take advantage of the reading area or sit at a long desk complete with computers to finish homework or a school paper.
For those looking for one-on-one tutoring, sectioned-off cubicles provide privacy and quiet. A conference-style table allows for discussion and exchange of ideas and information.
For the time being, Miller said he and his father will be handling the actual tutoring and will have teachers on standby on a need basis.
"I plan on taking on the first 15 students," Miller said.
Stephanie Johnson, executive director of West Side Main Street, said she is thrilled to have a new business come to the area.
With the combination of unique and traditional businesses, Johnson said K.I.D.S showcases the diversity of the West Side.
"(K.I.D.S) is unique and fits into what we have to offer," she said.
Johnson describes Miller as having abundant enthusiasm and passion, which she said is important in any business endeavor.
"We're glad (Zachary) made the West Side his home," she said.
What is important in education
"I really believe in the individual and I think we're not taught that the individual is powerful," Miller said. "We're not taught the individual has all the tools they need."
He hopes to change that.
Miller said he has always been socially aware and that the issue of education is a social one.
"I consider myself a social entrepreneur because I want to enact social change for the better of my community," he said.
What schools lack, and what he hopes to supplement through the K.I.D.S program, is the one-on-one experience he said is impossible to do in the current school system. Each child's psychology is different and each child develops in his or her own way, Miller said.
That is why individualization is important.
"Granted, in the global society you have to have schools, you have to have these systems, you have to have the socialization, but it's lacking in that individual element," Miller said.
"We need a change, or at least something outside of that, that will fill that need, and that's kind of what I'm here to do."
In addition to being a supplemental source, Miller said K.I.D.S is also an alternative educational source.
"There's issues there that can't be accomplished in the structure that is established," he said. "Forty-nine percent proficiency; that's what I came home to.
"I want to make a change in education. There has to be a new way."
Through K.I.D.S, parents have other additional educational options and the chance to round out any educational gaps they feel may exist.
What about private school?
That's great, Miller said, but it has the potential to cost a lot of money.
"For $25, you can bring a student once a week and really have some supplemental programs that might help them in the long run as opposed to a $15,000 school bill," he said.
Because K.I.D.S is privately funded, Miller said he has more flexibility to change a student's plan if his or her individual needs require it.
"I want to be able to work with a student for that student and, if that night, that student wants to change their plan completely, I don't want to have to answer five or 10 other people before I make that change," he said. "That student's education is in their hands here. And that's what sets us apart.
"It's about them, what they want and need, teaching them that that matters and that's what's going to fuel success."
One person Miller credits with taking time to work with him individually is Mika Elovaara, one of Miller's professors during graduate school at University of North Carolina Wilmington. Miller received his undergraduate degree from Marshall University.
"It's the mentors, the people that came into my life that said, ‘That sounds really awesome. Why don't you think about it this way? Why don't you try it out this way?''' Miller said. "It wasn't until I had these one-on-one experiences with these really impressive, educated intelligent people that I really figured out what it meant to learn and what it meant to teach.
"And that's what I really want to bring to this, one-on-one experience that matters."
Another person who has helped Miller achieve his educational goal is his father, who agreed to put some money toward the project.
"He's run several businesses in the past, so he's such an essential part of this," Miller said.
"I see myself as a teacher and really marketing and getting out there and having these products and the supply and demand is so far beyond my line of thinking. Dad is helping with that."
In addition to earning a degree in education and becoming a licensed teacher, Miller also tutored for five years.
"I've done the hands-on tutoring thing for a long time," he said.
While at UNCW, Miller participated in student teaching through being a teaching assistant.
For a few semesters, he also worked at an after-school program that focused on illiteracy.
Implementing the plan
"When you put your energy in a place and people collectively put their energy in a place, that produces an effect on that place," Miller said.
While it will take time to build a new business, Miller said he anticipates its peak time coming in either February or March. He said once school is winding down, students may realize extra help might be needed in order to pass their classes.
"My experience with tutoring independently is that if you get one or two clients, word of mouth spreads really fast, especially if you're effective," Miller said. "I basically paid for six months rent.
"I have a year lease, and this is my shot at making a little difference in education."