The members of Hall County Community Collaborative (H3C) have been busy.
Recently, community members outside of this organization have been involved as well. As COVID-19’s presence grows in the physical and virtual sense – from news updates, emails, and social media posts – one group of essential workers who provide an essential service are sometimes overlooked.
Those people are early care providers. For Julie Nash, H3C’s Executive Director, early care providers are constantly on her mind, in her heart, and in her thoughts – now more so than ever.
As COVID-19 has become recognized as a global crisis within the last month, the difficulties that this pandemic has wreaked on early care organizations are very real.
From basic items such as toilet paper, milk, bread, and disinfectants, regular household staples that were either a click or a trip away are now rare commodities. Supermarket aisles stand bare. Online retailers show “out of stock” captions.
For early care providers a can of disinfectant can make a difference between the facility remaining opened or closed.
Even so, the problem isn’t as simple as that.
Despite COVID-19, many families need to work, and their children need quality care. Without childcare, there can be no essential workers. Without these essential early care workers, there can be no thriving community.
Julie Nash wholeheartedly recognizes this connection. She and her organization serve on a committee that works with children ages birth through 11 and their providers. Through the professional grapevine, Julie caught wind from Shonna Werth, Assistant Vice President of Early Childhood Programs, that a provider in St. Paul, Nebraska needed disinfectant. In fact, if this provider couldn’t find some sanitizer soon, she would have to close her doors.
When Shonna reached out and asked Julie for help, Julie was confident that she was the woman for the job.
“I thought to myself, ‘How hard can this be?’” said Julie. She hadn’t yet known the challenge she was up against.
Faced with the prospect of closing if she didn’t obtain sanitizer, the early care provider was staring in the same, familiar yet foreboding face of uncertainty as many others have during COVID-19.
Julie set out on the hunt for disinfectant. First, she went to all the stores in Hastings. She was met with empty aisles.
“There was nothing,” Julie said. “All the shelves were bare.”
Not to be stopped by unstocked stores, Julie began searching online, continuing her quest for one can of sanitizer. To her dismay, after four hours of searching, Julie still came up empty.
“I was a little defeated,” said Julie.
That week, she got together with her friends and fellow members for a Zoom meeting Bible study. By then, Julie said she was feeling incredibly discouraged. It was the beginning of the workweek and not a can of sanitizer in sight.
As Julie participated in her online gathering, her friends noticed she was downtrodden. One of her fellow Bible study members said, “You aren’t your usual, bubbly self.”
Julie came clean. She told her group members about her search for disinfectant, but she also told them more. She expressed not only her frustration, but the reasons behind it.
“I told them that childcare is key for health care,” she said. “This is a needed, critical industry; [early care workers] are the frontline people.” She then told everyone about her seemingly impossible search.
Julie said, despite her initial positivity, she was feeling her hunt take its toll.
“I felt so defeated,” she said. This was all [the provider] needs. [Providers] already have so much stress. They’re trying to keep things clean, keep up with their kids’ homework – the stress should not be about disinfectant spray!”
For Julie, her concerns spanned beyond sanitizer. She was ultimately worried about the future of our early care workers. “There’s financial hardship,” she said. “They’re taking fewer kids. We’re seeing [providers] who have stopped their businesses [and face] financial stress. This has an impact on everybody.”
Nonetheless, Julie awoke the next day and began anew. Prepared for another day’s challenge, she was unprepared to receive a text from one of her Bible study friends. She was taken back by his unexpected message: he had found some disinfectant.
The morning after the Bible study, Julie’s friend made a special, early trip to the grocery store and picked up some of impossibly rare disinfectant.
“He said ‘It’s only three cans,’” said Julie. “I said, ‘it’s liquid gold!’” She said she was overjoyed by this act of kindness. “I was so excited, like I got an Easter basket full of candy.”
Julie said she was particularly moved that her community understood the dire need and repercussions at stake.
“My people get how important this is. I said to [my friend], ‘What do I owe you?’ He said, ‘Oh, Julie. This is the least I can do. Thank the provider for me.’”
Julie’s spirits lifted even higher as she called the provider to deliver the good news. “I think she thanked me about seven times,” said Julie. “She said, ‘What can I pay you?’ I said, ‘No need; people donated this!’”
Julie marvels at how one small act and one small product are proof of our interconnectedness as a community – and how we can create positive change from small acts of engagement.
“This is the power of community – who would have thought this group could do that?” Said Julie regarding her Bible study members’ kind deed. “Now, because of something as simple as disinfectant, [the provider] can stay open!”
Julie’s work is far from done. The committee has since continuously needed cleaning supplies. Initially, the group delivered milk and bread to providers, and has shifted to helping find cleaning supplies and other needs as they arise.
Along with her continued commitment to helping our communities and their care centers, Julie is also rethinking a certain phrase.
“At first, I thought [the term] ‘Nebraska nice’ was terrible,” said Julie. “But now I realize it’s who we are.”
This expanded definition of “Nebraska nice” fits seamlessly into our mission to create positive change through community engagement.
As we continue to find our way into a world that changes by the second, we can still facilitate acts of good. These seemingly small positive actions can mean a tremendous difference in someone else’s life – and possibly your own.
A can of disinfectant isn’t just an annoyingly scarce household product. That same sanitizer is the difference between an early care provider opening or closing her doors to the lives of children and essential working families who are depending on her to continue to work.
A Bible study isn’t just a faith-based gathering; it’s a staple of our community who, in this instance, took a moment to listen to a friend’s need and made a change greater than one could imagine.
We aren’t just a single community, person, or family. Everything we do travels outward in waves, now more so than ever. We encourage everyone: policymakers, community leaders, early care providers, teachers, Bible study groups, book groups, and political officials, regardless of title, status, or background, to continue to spread drops of kindness that are crucial to grow the good life for everyone in our state.
*The third photo is one borrowed from the public domain, labeled for non-commercial reuse. The intention of the image is to demonstrate a common problem that has arisen along with COVID-19.