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GLIDE’s Family, Youth and Childcare Center staff support families through exceptionally challenging times

Despite needing to temporarily pause all on-site programming, GLIDE’s Family Youth and Childcare Center (FYCC) has been busy supporting its families in ways tailored to the particular challenges—and increasing need—brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. From the first days of the shelter-in-place order, FYCC staff members mobilized to distribute food and other basic necessities from FYCC’s lobby door on Ellis Street, working tirelessly to provide vulnerable families and children in the Tenderloin with the support they desperately need.

“It was pouring rain on the first day of food distribution,” recalls FYCC Director Lanie Igtanloc of that afternoon in March. “I didn’t expect many families to come but, to my surprise, the parents were lined up.

“Despite the rain, you could see the tears and stress in their expressions,” she continues. “Many of them told me that they didn’t have the money to buy enough food or stock up on essentials. I just kept telling everyone the same thing, ‘We are here for you. We will continue to be here for you.’”

The coronavirus pandemic has given us all a new awareness of the landscape of limited choices. But for those whose choices were already highly restricted—low-income families whose lives were never safe or easy—the reality of this pandemic is starkly different. Navigating the structural disadvantages and restricted-access resources has only become more complex for people like FYCC’s hard-working but very-low-income parents, and the consequences of not succeeding have never been more dire. That’s why FYCC’s devoted staff have been stepping up.

Over 400 families are enrolled in FYCC. Before the arrival of the coronavirus, a typical weekday included afterschool programing for youth in grades K-5, a Family Resource Center offering parenting workshops and family case management, as well as licensed childcare and early education services for children 18 months to 5 years old. There were constantly family events and field trips happening simultaneously.

But in the last three months, the building has become unusually still, no longer animated by the joy and laughter of children or the multilingual conversations with parents picking up their kids or consulting with a teacher. Instead, all of this activity has had to adapt to the new circumstances brought on by pandemic.

“The building is typically so lively,” notes Anthony, the FYCC Building Coordinator. “As soon as you stepped inside, the space was alive with all the teachers and parents coming and going. Now it is quiet,” he says. “The silence stands out.”

Despite the silence on-site, Anthony and his colleagues have remained busy.

Many of the families who live in the Tenderloin, including many FYCC families, had jobs in the hospitality and service industries, and so were among the first to be out of work as the pandemic forced a general lockdown in the Bay Area.

Since the start of the pandemic in March, Anthony has been overseeing the emergency food distribution program at FYCC. “I have years of experience with operations,” he explains. “But I had no idea how food distribution works. I just knew I had to jump in. We weren’t going to let any of our families go hungry.”

With the help of supporters like Project Isaiah and Gate Gourmet, First Five, GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals team, and generous donations from across our community, FYCC is able to distribute meals and critical supplies to families in the Tenderloin three days a week.

“We have been collecting feedback from parents on what to include in the distribution, to get a sense of what they really need,” Anthony explains. “The focus is on pantry items and dry goods, considering we don’t know how long this pandemic will go on.”

In the quest for creative solutions to the growing need, FYCC’s teachers have also started a series of online cooking classes, showing families how to prepare nutritious meals with the groceries they pick up at FYCC. Each bag includes a recipe tailored to the ingredients distributed that week and designed to ensure families get the nutrition they need despite the limited options available to unemployed parents.

Anthony makes care packages for distribution to families.

Helping families navigate resources and meet immediate needs

With many millions of Americans filing unemployment claims as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, more and more people are experiencing firsthand just how impersonal, invasive and confusing the process of receiving benefits can be.

“For the first two weeks, most the of the questions were about rent,” says Lanie. “We were overwhelmed with helping parents figure out how to apply for unemployment and navigate where to find financial resources.”

Of course, the pandemic also closed schools and daycares. And given the risk of contagion, support networks have become more limited. The stress of being unemployed in an increasingly precarious economy is compounded by having the children home all day, often in small, cramped spaces. And while the burdens of COVID-19 continue to mount for low-income families, immigrant families are facing a unique range of barriers.

“When school districts first started giving out meals, they required parents to bring a child and identification,” Lanie explains. “Many families were coming to FYCC for support because we don’t ask about their immigration status.” While the Unified School District eventually stopped asking for IDs, the trust established between the frontline staff at FYCC and families has proven to be essential in combatting the deepening inequality caused by the pandemic.

Beyond immediate needs

Selina is the Afterschool Program Manager and has worked at FYCC for over 11 years.

“I have known many of these families for years,” she says with affection in her voice. “They are basically an extension of my own family.”

FYCC teachers prioritize family engagement as part of a child’s education. Integral to the reinvention of afterschool online programming was the engagement of not only children, but their parents too. Through virtual platforms like Zoom and ClassDojo, parents and children bond in Baby and Me classes, read books together, and participate in science experiments and children’s homework assignments.

Technology poses an additional challenge to remote learning for low-income families. Many don’t have internet access or laptops. In an attempt to bridge the digital divide, FYCC staff are collaborating with the Unified School District as well as GLIDE’s Fund Development team to provide one laptop or tablet per family.

This online programming has proved especially important for immigrant families who relied on afterschool programs to help their children learn English. These online platforms are opening up new avenues for parents who previously were unable to participate in their children’s studies.

“Our entire staff speaks Spanish,” notes Selina, “but now the variety of linguistic options on these virtual platforms allow the families who speak Arabic and other languages to interact in ways they may not have felt comfortable with before.”

Theresa stocking up on necessities for young families.

In this together

As the shelter-in-place continues, FYCC staff members continue to improvise, expanding the range of available resources for the community, building up their inventory of everything from baby formula, feminine products, toilet paper and diapers to cleaning products, deodorant, information on dental resources, and ever more activities for the children—including books and art supplies.

The lift is a heavy one because the need is great.

“It often feels like we are walking a fine line of trying to provide everything but knowing we can’t,” admits Anthony with audible exhaustion. “We are doing the best we can to provide the resources most needed.”

As FYCC’s director, Lanie understands that her staff have much to deal with in their own lives, even as they devote themselves wholeheartedly to FYCC’s families.

“Many FYCC staff are in their 60s,” Lanie explains. “Most are living in the East Bay with long commutes with families of their own at home.”

“Not only are we fighting to advocate for low-income families in the Tenderloin, but we are trying not to become overwhelmed ourselves,” she says. “Each day requires motivation.”

She adds with pride, “The fact that my staff overcomes all the fear and all the obstacles for the sake of the welfare of families here at FYCC shows you the true power of community.”

By Erin Gaede

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

A look at what our community’s kids and parents can count on.

Summertime is almost here—a time when children suddenly have seemingly endless hours of free time. But what do the working parents of low-income families do about childcare once school is let out?

It’s no secret that the cost of childcare in San Francisco, along with the cost of living as a whole, has skyrocketed. According to a study by The Insight Center for Community Economic Development, the median cost of childcare for preschool-age kids rose 40% in the Bay Area between 2014 and 2018, from about $1,000 a month to more than $1,500. This cost can prove prohibitively expensive for many parents, even those working multiple jobs and/or taking shifts at odd hours to do their best for their families.

FYCC Field Day, Summer 2016. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin.

Many parents are simply moving out of the city. In fact, San Francisco has the lowest percentage of people under 13 of any major city in the nation.

The inequities and acute challenges faced by low-income parents, including during the summer months when children are no longer in school, are why GLIDE’s Janice Mirikitani Family, Youth and Childcare Center (FYCC) exists.

“We go where parents are most likely not going to have the means to go… Not everybody has a car and can drive to Marin.” —Juan

In anticipation of summer break, we spoke with Juan and Selina, two of GLIDE’s wonderful teachers, about FYCC’s thriving Afterschool and Summer Program.

“In the summer, we’re here with the kids much longer,” explains Juan, lead teacher for the second-graders. “We go from spending three hours a day with them to nearly nine hours.”

While the hours may be long, Juan and Selina make it clear that the summer program is fun and rewarding for both the children and themselves.

We go on field trips every Tuesday and Thursday,” says Juan. “We do hikes, we go swimming, do art… We’re going to dissect an owl’s pellet, which,” he admits, “is a little gross, but the kids are going to think it’s cool!”

“We also have tons of [guest instructors] who come in and do activities with them like music and dancing,” adds Selina, the lead kindergarten teacher, who has been with FYCC for over a decade. “I believe there is a ‘bubble lady’ coming in, too. She puts the kids inside bubbles!”

FYCC Field Day, Summer 2016. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin.

One of the best things about FYCC Summer Camp, according to Juan and Selina, is that many of the children get to experience certain joyful and eye-opening activities for the first time in their lives, like flying a kite, or visiting the Marin Headlands.

“We go where parents are most likely not going to have the means to go,” explains Juan. “Not everybody has a car and can drive to Marin.”

Selina adds that they try to show the kids the diversity of Bay Area neighborhoods and natural parks.

“The kids get to do a private tour of Oracle ball park,” she notes. “And, the older kids get to go camping through CYO [Catholic Youth Organization]. It’s for children from eight to 15-years-old. It’s for a whole week, and it’s entirely free to the families here, including the food.”

FYCC instructors Juan Ruiz and Selina Ng pose in front of a mural that Juan painted on his classroom wall.

Of course, when working with children, there is never a shortage of hilarious stories. Selina recalls one summer a couple years ago when FYCC teachers took the kids day-camping in the Presidio.

“All the camping supplies are supposed to be provided, stored in a locker for you on-site. It turned out that somebody took the logs we’d planned to use to make the fire. When we finally found some, none of us teachers could figure out how to build the fire!” Selina recalls, laughing.

“The kids were just like, what is going on? We had supplies to make hot dogs and s’mores… The kids were really good about it. They had a really positive attitude, but it was so funny. I was like, well, we grew up in the city, I never went camping! Luckily, we found a high-school teacher right across from us at the campsite, so they helped us build the fire,” she says.

“City people tryin’ to camp. That’s what happens,” Juan laughs.

A GLIDE FYCC teacher leads a group of children on a field trip.

Juan and Selina express gratitude for the support and enthusiasm the program receives from organizations and institutions that reduce or waive fees to make field trips possible, and to individual San Franciscans who generously donate to the program.

“Afterschool programs that are income-based are great because a lot of families here don’t have the means to keep their kids elsewhere,” says Juan. “And you definitely don’t want to have your kid at home alone, or alone in the city. The fact that we can provide care, with a kick of education along with it, is great.”

Especially given what’s going on in the political landscape, I think it’s very important that we keep cultivating equality, social justice and acceptance of cultures other than our own. — Selina

Selina, who is a mother herself, adds that San Francisco now has the most expensive childcare in the nation.

“Especially when you remember that, in the Bay Area, a family of four making $110,000 is considered low-income, and then you factor in how much our FYCC parents make, which is way, way less than that,” she notes. “I think that programs like this are an asset and that we need more of them.”

“I want my child to be with other kids and do things that they don’t get to do during the school day,” she continues, “When they come to FYCC, there are electives! There’s PE, cooking, art, music—things that are not necessarily offered at school anymore. It’s also a safe place and, as a parent, knowing where your child is after school gives you peace of mind. Childcare should be a right; it shouldn’t be a privilege.”

FYCC Field Day, Summer 2016. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin.

Not only are the families FYCC serves low-income, many of them are also immigrants and face challenging linguistic and cultural barriers. During the academic year, FYCC teachers offer assistance with homework to the kids, as many of their parents do not read or write English. Teachers prioritize instilling an appreciation and love of diversity in their classes, and these values of acceptance and inclusion are reiterated during the summer program.

“We introduce a lot of kids for the first time to another part of the world,” says Juan.

“Especially given what’s going on in the political landscape, I think it’s very important that we keep cultivating equality, social justice and acceptance of cultures other than our own,” says Selina. “FYCC [is] a safe place for everybody.”

The FYCC summer program begins on June 10 and lasts until August 9. For more information about GLIDE’s Family, Youth and Childcare Center, visit FYCC’s page on GLIDE’s website.

 

This past July, GLIDE’s Family, Youth + Childcare Center was honored to receive a Target Youth Wellness Grant, one of many such grants given nationwide, as Target aims to promote and inspire access to healthy eating and active living. For the kids in GLIDE’s afterschool and summer program, the grant is bringing new opportunities for P.E., outdoor play, active field trips and enrichment activities right here in the Tenderloin.
Continue reading “Target Aims for Community Wellness”