Early in March, when the nation was only beginning to grasp the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, a few college students from Palm Desert had an idea. Ryan Cieslikowski, then a Stanford University sophomore, along with several other Palm Desert High School alumni, decided to start an organization aimed at providing free child care and tutoring to medical workers. After a few texts, a long, late-night Zoom call and hours of research, COVID Child Care (CCC) was born.
“Since getting started we’ve established six different branches, including San Diego, Los Angeles and Reno," says Cieslikowski, CCC's director. "Altogether, we’ve saved medical workers over $120,000 in child care and tutoring costs. We’re especially proud of that number because we disproportionately serve lower-income medical workers, many of whom are single mothers.”
Impressively, CCC has received more than 170 requests for help and has recruited more than 400 volunteers to help their cause, figures that grow by the day.
But CCC is more than just numbers. Behind every volunteer and medical worker partnership that CCC’s organizers put into action is a compelling story of gratitude and selflessness.
In the fall of 2019, Sue Vickers, a registered nurse at Eisenhower Medical Center, tragically lost her daughter. At the time, Vickers' daughter — a single mother — was only one month away from graduating nursing school, following in her mother’s footsteps. In the wake of this family tragedy, Vickers selflessly stepped up to care for her 8-year-old grandson, Luke.
Only a few months after her daughter's death, as Vickers and Luke were just beginning to adjust to their new lives together, the pandemic struck. “It was hard to get child care,” Vickers says. “We work 12 hours, and most daycares are only open until 6 p.m. And when the pandemic first started, there were no daycares open.”
Just when she needed help, a COVID Child Care poster caught her eye at work. Within 24 hours of completing the request form on CCC’s website, she was paired with CCC volunteer Josh Phillips, a junior at Westmont College.
As soon as Phillips heard Vickers and Luke’s story, he was determined to help. “It seemed like I had been brought to this for a reason," he says, "and that I could make a difference and help them out in an important way.”
While Vickers was at work, Phillips took Luke swimming, made sure he had meals and walked their dogs. And when Vickers needed someone to pick Luke up from daycare in an emergency, Phillips was there in a heartbeat. Without a father or grandfather, Luke enjoyed the company of a male role model, a role his grandmother couldn't fill alone.
Countless CCC volunteers like Phillips collectively donate hundreds of hours of their time to help medical workers in need. But Cieslikowski points out that it doesn’t have to be that way. “There’s a reason, beside the pandemic, why CCC has to exist in the first place," he says. "There’s a history in this country of undervaluing child care and early education interventions. This comes despite overwhelming research showing that funding child care programs and robust early education can have dramatic effects — not only on children's and parents' lives, but on the health of our society and economy as a whole.
“COVID Child Care is only a tiny band aid on a deeper, more systemic issue in our communities,” he says.
While CCC represents a desperate need in the community, it also speaks to the sincere gratitude that people feel toward medical workers. Phillips puts it well: “[Medical workers are] putting in a lot of hours, doing a lot of work to keep our communities healthy and safe. I'm always grateful for that — I think we should always be grateful for that. And especially in a time of a pandemic, that's not a debt you can ever really repay, so the best I can do is to just say thank you.”
For more information on COVID Child Care or to volunteer, visit covid-childcare.org.
A long-time resident of the Coachella Valley, Donna Sturgeon has deep roots in this community as an entrepreneur, programs consultant, community connector and educator within a variety of industry sectors. When not writing, Sturgeon enjoys hiking, yoga, travel, fashion, music and the arts.