Hephzibah has been a life-saver for us during this crazy year.Oak Park Parent
The past year has been crazy and stressful for us all, but one group significantly affected by skyrocketing stress levels has been parents with school-age children. With schools suddenly closing their doors and switching to remote learning, many parents scrambled to adjust and help their children learn and feel safe. Some couldn’t stay home with their children, some stayed home but couldn’t supervise e-learning, and some found that their children were struggling with learning from home.
In stepped Hephzibah Children’s Association, which has provided invaluable support to Oak Park families by expanding its daycare program from a safe after-school haven to an all-day education and enrichment powerhouse, available to all elementary school children in Oak Park’s public school system. To make this contribution to the community in a time of crisis, Hephzibah increased its full-time daycare program staff to nearly seven times its normal level in just three weeks, purchased PPE and sanitizing supplies, found money for e-learning equipment, and quickly trained all staff to guide kids through e-learning and ensure a safe, healthy environment for everyone during the pandemic.
If launching this new program was difficult and expensive, maintaining it was even harder. As Oak Park schools were constantly forced to adjust to ever-changing circumstances and government guidance, Hephzibah had to pivot quickly to follow changing school schedules and safety guidelines. This necessitated a complete retooling of the program on a regular basis, continual adjustments to staff levels and training, and searches for safe new learning spaces.
Hephzibah met every challenge and, through hard work and determination, ensured that the children in its program participated in e-learning, stayed safe, and enjoyed after-learning enrichment each day. In addition, Hephzibah forged new relationships with other organizations in the community, an astonishing accomplishment for an organization that was already an Oak Park institution. One such partnership, with United Lutheran Church, provided learning space for Hephzibah children and will continue into the future.
Hephzibah’s efforts to support the community during the pandemic have been nothing short of heroic. The expansion of its daycare program is just one example of how Hephzibah has worked to carry children and families through the COVID-19 crisis.
It is, unfortunately, an expensive example. Because Hephzibah refused to increase pay rates for parents, the organization has taken on a nearly $1,000,000 budget deficit in this program. Individuals and foundations generously donated to help cover a portion of Hephzibah’s additional expenses and the agency worked quickly to obtain a PPP loan to cover the remainder. Although it was a significant investment in every way, it didn’t stop Hephzibah from stepping up and caring for children and families in our community when they needed help.
Anyone interested in learning more about Hephzibah Children’s Association can visit its website at: https://www.hephzibahhome.org.
Beth Cannon is a member of Hephzibah’s Oak Park Auxiliary Board.