All about the Families
Education Director La Monica Hopkins reflects on 20 years at GLIDE’s Family, Youth and Childcare Center
It has been over 20 years since La Monica Hopkins first joined the staff at GLIDE’s Janice Mirikitani Family, Youth and Childcare Center (FYCC), but her connection to GLIDE goes back much further. There have been many changes at GLIDE over the course of the last two decades, yet La Monica’s dedication to FYCC has not only held strong but empowered FYCC to expand to meet the growing needs of low-income families in San Francisco. As La Monica transitions out of her role as FYCC’s Education Director and embarks on the next phase of her journey, we sat down to reflect on her invaluable contribution and lessons learned at GLIDE.
What first brought you to GLIDE?
La Monica: My grandmother. Back when the Creative Space was the Celebration office, my grandmother was a receptionist to GLIDE’s Co-Founders Rev. Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani. I was 12 years old at the time and spent almost every weekend at GLIDE Church. In 1999, my grandmother came home from work one day and told me that GLIDE was planning to open a childcare center. I had already begun working with kids by then, and she encouraged me to apply. I was hired on as a preschool teacher when Janice Mirikitani and Joyce Hayes were helping to put it together. They are the true mothers of FYCC.
Joyce Hayes specifically had a big impact on me. She fostered over 80 children from the community and received the Congressional Angels in Adoption Award from Nancy Pelosi in 2001 for her commitment to children. My office used to be hers. In fact, there is a chair in the corner of my office that was made for Joyce. I think of her fondly every time I look at it.
What are the biggest lessons have you learned at GLIDE?
The biggest take away is being accepting and holding judgement when working with families. I try to ask parents what they think they should do rather than telling them what to do. Especially if I have never been through what they are experiencing. However, when it comes to building programs or childcare services, I am very direct about what I think works or is insulting to the families and children we serve. I am an advocate and will always choose to do what is right for our clients no matter the risk when speaking up for what is right. It is all about what is best for the families.
What do you want the wider community to know about families at FYCC?
There are so many misconceptions. When I give tours of FYCC I get questions like, “Are all of the parents on drugs?” I often have to explain that “at risk” doesn’t mean somebody is on drugs. It means that the family is struggling because they are poor. Sometimes that can include drug use, foster care, and/or homelessness. But usually it just means poverty.
This impacts another big misconception about low-income families: that at-risk parents don’t care. They might not hang around and ask a bunch of questions about what their child learned in class that afternoon because they have other challenges on their mind. When parents come to FYCC to pick up their children, many are worried about getting back to a shelter on time, distracted by thoughts of where they are going to eat tonight, where they will sleep tonight, or they may have others kids that they need to pick up from somewhere else because they needed subsidized childcare but didn’t get all their kids into the same childcare center.
At the end of the day, parents are parents. Most all of us deal with many of the same issues. Unfortunately, if you are better off economically versus being impoverished, you get a different narrative assigned to your child and your family.
What are some of the challenges of working at FYCC?
I worked in corporate childcare before coming to GLIDE, providing care to very affluent families like kids whose parents were on the Oakland Raiders football team. Totally worlds apart from here. But the parents were still asking their teachers for advice, wanting to know what else they can do, why their child is behaving like this or that. No matter where they are from.
Everything we can do here can be implemented in corporate care. However, in affluent neighborhoods and childcare centers, they don’t have to prove what they are doing works. And here at FYCC we do. We have to collect data to show that children are learning at a better rate. We have to constantly test the kids, assess them, and that doesn’t need to happen in more affluent centers because of the assumption that education there is better. Often times it is, but not because of the teachers and what is being offered. It’s because of exposure. Children in affluent neighborhoods receive an education well beyond what is being offered in school because there is more time and resources—time to go to the library and read a variety of books; money to travel to other countries and experience different cultures and different languages, attend theater performances, learn to play instruments and take karate classes. Meanwhile, most parents here at FYCC are working multiple jobs and may not have time every night for story time.
We do our best to provide field trips and take our kids to the theater. Recently we went to see to see Matilda. Afterward, I made them read the chapter book. Unfortunately, when we go on field trips like that there is always somebody, who never thinks they are saying something insulting, who says, “Oh, I think it is so wonderful that you bring these kids to see this.” Or, “Those kids were so well behaved; I was so surprised!” My thought is always, “What do you mean these kids? These kids are just like any other kids.”
What are your hopes for the future of FYCC?
I would like to see stability, which will require respect for not just what FYCC does but the whole field of childcare and after-school programs. I want to see that lifted up and better understood. A lot of time childcare providers are viewed as glorified babysitters, but that view is wrong and backward. The fact that we are “just with the kids” is more challenging than most people know. Within the first two hours of most shifts we have put out three fires and there is another one starting! Few people have any idea what has to be considered. When you work with children the liabilities for safety are serious; we have to know where they are at all times and who is in the building. This is why we have the doors you buzz into. It is not just about the neighborhood. Accepting responsibility for someone’s child is a huge ordeal. I am always most nervous when we go to amusement parks. The counts are constant! “How many kids do you have? How many kids do you have? How many kids do you have?” I expect the teachers to know the total number at all times.
What will you miss most?
The families. Over the years I have worked with children who have become parents, and now their children are attending preschool and after-school programs here. I will miss their smiling faces, my connections to these resilient families, and being able to witness FYCC families who were homeless achieve housing and maintain it. I will miss the phone calls from former students who are now enrolled in colleges in the Bay Area reaching out to share how much of an influence this place had on them. I am proud of the fact that we have staff who were once children in our programs and are now teachers giving back to the families and the community we have built together at FYCC. ♥
By Erin Gaede