As Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and our partners navigate a new path in the wake of COVID-19, there are those who put their lives on the line every day to serve our children and families.
Although many professions, from retail to bartending to hospitality, have felt COVID-19’s impact, there is one, essential part of our professional demographic whose efforts occasionally remain unsung: our early care and education providers.
Today, Roxann Bihlmaier, the Director of Kinder Haus Child Center in Eustis, Nebraska, will discuss her struggles and hopes in relation to COVID-19. Although every childcare provider’s story is unique, their hardships, hopes, and fears are all very real. Let us allow Roxann to tell us her story.
Living Amid a Pandemic: An Introduction to Roxann and her Center
My name is Roxann Bihlmaier and I am the Director of Kinder Haus Child Center in Eustis, Nebraska. I have been the director since July of 2014. My center currently has 68 children enrolled with the center’s licensing capacity at 45 children per day. Kinder Haus Child Center provides care for the communities of Eustis, Farnam, Cozad, Elwood, and Johnson Lake.
What are the ways COVID-19 has impacted you and your care center?
COVID-19 has impacted Kinder Haus in several ways. We have lost families due to the virus, resulting in a loss of income for the center. With our childcare income being down, it is a trying time to make ends meet. Being a nonprofit center, budget is tight but even more with the COVID-19.
Are you still open? Do you plan to close?
Kinder Haus Child Center is still open. We want to be here for our families 100% and want to continue providing childcare for our families daily. We are doing everything possible to get through this together.
Kinder Haus board is following COVID-19 very closely and monitoring Kinder Haus Child Center along with staff and children. We don’t want to have to close. We are extremely fearful that if we have to shut our doors, we won’t be able to reopen and that would be detrimental to our small community of Eustis, and other communities we are serving. It would also leave 15 staff without jobs.
What have been (if any) supportive resources for you and your fellow providers? (Please interpret this question as broadly as you like. Resources including SBA loans, Facebook groups, Zoom meetings, certain policies, certain community members, initiatives, etc.)
Kinder Haus’ Board of Directors has been looking into several options regarding loans. I applied for the Nebraska Child Care Provider Relief Fund yesterday. So, I am hoping to hear good news from that.
We have been using ZOOM for our monthly and emergency board meetings. This has been a great way for my eight board members and myself to meet without direct contact and be able to discuss all of Kinder Haus’ business.
On March 17, we set up new guidelines to meet the statewide policies regarding COVID-19:
- All staff and children entering the center are having their temperature taken before being allowed into the center. Anything below 100 degrees is allowed into the center. Anything that would be above would not be. Parents stop at the door with their children, staff meet them, take their child(ren), do the temping, take their belongings, and take them to the classrooms they are in. Staff have also become responsible for signing children in and out daily, so that parents continue to stop at the door.
- We are following the 10-person rule by spreading out, utilizing the other side of the church basement (we are housed in St. John’s Lutheran Church). We have also started feeding our toddlers in the toddler room, preschoolers in the dining room, and school-age children in another area. Babies have always been fed in the baby room, so we continue to do the same there.
- Toys are being dipped in sanitizing water in rotation of every other day. Everything is being sprayed with Lysol as normal. Gates, light switches, doorknobs, and walls where children and staff have their hands frequently, are getting wiped down hourly.
How have you and/or the community pulled together to support one another? Have there been any random, anecdotal acts of kindness you can share?
The Eustis Community Foundation has reached out to us and has asked us of our needs, either in supplies or monetarily. They will also be providing a meal or two for the center “meeting CACFP standards” from the Eustis Pool Hall. This will benefit two businesses at once in the community of Eustis. They will be in touch to help the center.
Our parents and a few community members have been ever so gracious to donate supplies, as I am having a very hard time finding day-to-day supplies that used to be easy to come by. Things such as eggs, bread, paper towels, toilet paper, Lysol wipes, disposable gloves, Kleenex, On Guard, thermometer covers, rubbing alcohol, lotion for the staffs’ hands, and bleach are some of the most common but definitely most helpful donations. Stock Aid Veterinary clinic out of Farnam has even aided the center in finding disposable gloves and paper towels.
It is absolutely amazing how a community can come together and help the center out. I was and am blown away with the support. Even the simplest phone calls, text messages, and emails I have received of “How are you doing? Do you need anything? Don’t forget to take care of yourself too. What can I do to help out?” have been overwhelming. It’s amazing how when something like this happens, everyone kicks into overdrive and wants to help wherever they can. That’s what is so special about small communities.
How has this crisis impacted your staff?
The loss of hours for staff has definitely been the hardest when it comes to their livelihood. I have eight full-time staff and six part-time staff. Two of my staff have taken a leave of absence on their own. The one thing I can say about my staff…they keep coming to work, doing their jobs as they did before the COVID-19. Putting the children first, as they are still the top priority.
I appreciate them coming in daily and working like nothing is happening out there in our world of uncertainty. Losing hours and pay is huge and I just wish I could fix that part. With us being nonprofit, you can’t file unemployment. But, since the COVID-19, unemployment is allowing staff to file even though we are nonprofit.
The board of directors has also been working on a loan to help cover the cost of income lost for my staff. We are trying to make routines as normal as possible. We want to make sure the environment is safe for the children and ourselves. It is hard, it is frustrating and some days just tiresome, but we will ALL get through this together.
What is the ultimate thing, tangible or intangible, that you need right now?
The most tangible thing Kinder Haus would need is meat. We have had a cow donated to us in the past, and we pay the processing fee to butcher it. Our meat supply is running extremely low, but without the funds because of the loss of income of Kinder Haus, it is just too hard to do that right now.
Are there any supplies you need? Please, name them.
Supplies that I am having a hard time finding are Lysol or non-brand-name wipes, Lysol spray (generic is what I usually buy), Kleenex, toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, hand sanitizer, gloves, and bleach. Food items that are hard to purchase in bulk supply are bread (needs to be 100% whole grain), eggs, and any kind of boxed noodle.
What would you want our readers to know about your struggle?
That we are doing our best each and every day. We are coming to work, we are taking major precautions and trying to continue a routine that is normal for the main purpose: “our families.”
It is so frustrating when I need to purchase groceries to feed 20+ children a day and I can’t find the items I need to follow CACFP (Child Adult Care Food Program) standards. I think I have said a couple handful of times, “I am not hoarding food; I am feeding children at Kinder Haus Child Center.”
We are an essential business and without us providing care for our families, it would put them in a hard spot too.
Note from Nebraska Children: If you know or are a provider or educator who is dealing with a shortage of essential supplies, please review the article “Nebraska grocers are open to working with child care providers” from our partner, First Five Nebraska. This piece features important information about grocers’ willingness to support your needs.