by SARAH NACHIN
On December 9, the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco & Hernando, Inc. (PHELC) presented a check for $71,872 representing aid to local child care providers as part of the Hernando County CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) grant. These funds were granted by the federal government and then dispersed to the states and from there to the counties. These particular funds came through the county’s Economic Development department. Approximately 70 pre-schools and daycare centers in Hernando County and 300 in Pasco received allotments based on their needs.
According to a press release issued by Melinda Velez, Communication and Outreach Manager for PHELC, “…The Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties, Inc., a 501c3 organization… whose mission is to support high-quality educational programs for every child, oversees Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) program for all children who are four years old on or before September 1st as well as the School Readiness program which provides subsidized childcare for low-to-moderate-income working families. The nonprofit serves over 12,000 children annually who are between the ages of infancy and twelve-years old.”
The effort to help child care providers began in March. At first, the greatest needs were hand sanitizers and disinfectant cleaners because these items were rationed. Then it was discovered that the centers needed more equipment, like thermometers, wipes, and sanitizing wands. These wands, costing $250 each, that Steve Knobl, Executive Director of PHELC, described as “resembling a vintage mobile phone,” can be used to sanitize hard surfaces by emitting a UV light.
Alicia Bates, office manager at the Landover Blvd. branch of Bright Beginnings Pre-School, stated, “I want to thank you for helping us out and getting these items for us. We don’t always have the ability to go to a store and pick up ten cans of Lysol which is about what we’re going through each week now. The stores are limiting us. For all of us in the workforce that have kids and grandkids, these guys [PHELC] have been there for us.”
County Commissioner Jeff Holcomb remarked, “When the Cares Act came through we were looking to serve the entire community with that money. We looked at many businesses that were hit really hard and the charities that won’t get the funds because a lot of people have lost their jobs.”
Besides Ms. Bates, Knobl, and Holcomb, others attending the check presentation were PHELC board members Angela Porterfield and Dr. Amy Anderson, campus provost for the Spring Hill branch of Pasco Hernando State College; School Board member Gus Guadagnino; and Heidi Coykendall, assistant to State Representative Blaise Ingoglia.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a ripple effect throughout communities and child care providers have been dealt a “triple whammy.” With more parents working from home, they aren’t sending their children to daycare; many have lost their jobs, meaning they’re children are not attending daycare. Plus, these centers have had to cut their enrollment in half due to CDC distancing guidelines. All of this has meant lost revenue to these child care centers and pre-schools.
There was a program in place for essential workers, in which the government was helping parents with tuition to relieve the burden for front line workers.
“We maxed out our grant money within the first three months of that program,” commented Ms. Bates. “We received $12,000 and it helped a lot of our parents out.”
CDC protocol that the pre-school follows places stress on the staff and children. If a family member of one of the children tests positive they’ll close that child’s classroom for a couple of days and monitor the children. It’s been difficult at times.
“They [child care workers] are really heroes,” Knobl remarked. “The daycare centers stayed opened back in March and April when all the schools closed down.”
Critical equipment that Bright Beginnings purchased were two fogger machines so that any time a class leaves for the day, the staff goes in and fogs their whole classroom to prepare for the next day. In between playground visits, they also fog the playground.
“We do whatever we need to do to keep the center and the staff safe and the children and their parents safe,” concluded Ms. Bates.
For more information about PHELC go to www.phelc.org or call 727-233-8291 Ext. 115.