Sound Business Fundamentals and Pandemic Loan Assistance Help Douglas Business Thrive  

Teresa McElroy’s business, The Therapy Tree, is a lifeline for families throughout Southeast Georgia who need occupational, speech and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for their children, many of whom are autistic. 


She launched the business with one patient in her family’s trailer in 2008. A dozen years later, her staff of 35 therapists serves nearly 500 children at offices in Douglas, Fitzgerald, Hazlehurst, Baxley, and Vidalia. In December she will open a 4,000 square foot sensory gym full of equipment to serve her clients. It will be the first such gym of its size in Southeast Georgia. 


By 2016, McElroy was working on her business with Walt Moore, area director of the UGA SBDC at Valdosta State University. Together they addressed topics including cash flow, financial management and strategic planning.  


When COVID-19 hit, McElroy continued working with Moore on her normal business needs.   


“I’ve been working with Walt for a long time. I didn’t go to him for help right away,” she said. “We mainly carried on in areas we’d already started: budgeting, accounting, human resources and our expansion with the gym.” 


Although her business was required to close a few months, McElroy and her staff worked on keeping the business going.  


“We had to go strictly to telehealth, but many in the population we’re geared to serve don’t have computers or internet access.”  


The Therapy Tree offered its families digital devices that would allow them to continue their therapy sessions, but many ended up connecting by phone. 


Eventually, McElroy went to Moore for help in applying for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).  


“The common issue everybody had was just trying to get information on the loans,” Moore said. “It was changing a lot, and there was a lot of uncertainty on the debt forgiveness side. Teresa had no challenges in applying for her business. No problem there.” 


“Walt helped mainly with giving me the resources I needed: who to contact and what exactly to ask for,” McElroy said. “It worked great! We received both PPP and EIDL. We could not have stayed open without the loans.” 


They also allowed her to continue her focus on building the new sensory gym.  


“Teresa is a visionary. When she gets something established, she’s already looking for the next thing,” said Moore. “We work together, she gets a foundation and then looks into branching out.” 


This outlook and the success it generated has earned McElroy recognition as the 2020 U. S. Small Business Administration’s Region IV (Southeast) Rural Small Businessperson of the Year. 


“I think it’s important for other small businesses to understand what a great resource the SBDC is,” she said. “They have so much experience in so many areas for a small business. It doesn’t matter what you need help in; they always have someone who specializes in it. And it’s free!”