BY JORDAN KILLEBREW | August 17, 2021
“Thank you for providing a space for my child. It brought me peace of mind and allowed me to focus on saving lives during the pandemic,” said an anonymous father and surgeon at Cottage Hospital.
Calls like these are becoming a norm as Cheri Diaz, Founder/Director of Hope 4 Kids Early Learning Centers, reflects on the last 16 months of work. Since March 2020, she faced numerous challenges but kept Hope 4 Kids alive to provide quality care for children ages zero and up.
“One of the first challenges was to ensure that we could keep our learning centers open,” said Diaz. “Fortunately, we were able to do this thanks to Hope Community Church and Community Covenant Church, where our two centers are located. Our next challenges were simply finding gloves, sanitizer, and the proper protective equipment to keep our babies and staff safe.”
However, finding these crucial supplies was not easy in the first months of the pandemic. With stay-at-home mandates and adjustments to every element of our world, everyday items became scarce, and Diaz and her staff were driving north and south of Santa Barbara County to simply get gloves and sanitizer to keep the doors open.
In addition, Hope 4 Kids Early Learning Centers lost 90% of its enrollment literally overnight. Diaz noted, “Parents at first were afraid, there were so many unknowns and little guidance on what to do. I did know we needed to stay open, and I consulted with Eileen Monahan (Early Care and Childhood consultant), who brainstormed with me on how to make this work.”
During her consultation with Monohan, it became clear that while many parents transitioned to working from home and could therefore care for their own children, service providers, doctors, and front-line workers were still in need of child care services as they spent even longer hours at work in efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and care for patients. These parents started calling, seeking enrollment for their children. And as quickly as enrollment fell during the initial shock of the pandemic, the center filled up again.
“We enrolled 60 kids in about a week,” Diaz continued. “Enrollment normally includes home site visits and a longer intake process, we simply needed to make it work, and we did.”
While the waiting list grew for Hope 4 Kids Early Learning Centers, another challenge arose. There was an obvious need for child care services for older children. Though Hope 4 Kids is primarily a center for birth through kindergarten, they expanded their services to include older children. Hope 4 Kids Early Learning Centers joined the COVID-19 Santa Barbara Emergency Early Child Care Initiative, where they worked with partners like the Sansum Clinic, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, La Cumbre Junior High School, Monte Vista Elementary, and other foundations to provide a site and care for grade school children.
School age students were at both La Colina Junior High and Monte Vista Elementary in the beginning of this collaboration; then they were incorporated into existing Hope 4 Kids’ campuses where they were able to continue under waivers from Community Care Licensing. They remained with Hope 4 Kids Early Learning Centers until their schools reopened. The last of these school age students will discontinue enrollment mid-August.
Looking to the future, Diaz is proud of the collaborations and efforts made by her team and the community to keep the early childhood learning centers open. She is looking for more support in terms of quality child care staff so that Hope 4 Kids Early Learning Centers may reduce their waiting list and enroll more children.
To learn more about Hope 4 Kids Early Learning Centers please go to h4kelc.org.
The Santa Barbara Foundation is proud to grant to Hope 4 Kids Early Learning Centers through our William and Lottie Daniel Fund Grant program.
The Santa Barbara Foundation will consider projects of faith-based organizations, but those projects must be secular in nature and open to individuals of all faiths and/or those of no religious affiliation.