I started my VISTA journey in August 2019. Fresh from graduating college, I wasn’t sure which direction my career would take but knew I needed more experience if I was ever going to get my dream job. I also felt a strong pull to serve people. Fortunate enough to have two caring parents with the means to put me through college, it was time to mobilize my privilege to put back into the community. I joined the Greater South Sound VISTA Team, and began serving with Child Care Action Council (CCAC) in Olympia, WA, supporting families and child care providers across six counties. I have been there ever since, contributing to increased access to early education for low-income families.
For the last nine months, I have worked alongside some of the most passionate and dedicated people that I have ever met, to solve one of the great crises of our time. One in six children in the U.S. live in poverty, making them the poorest age group in the country. This sobering fact stands in stark contrast to the harsh reality that child care is anything but affordable, with the annual cost for center-based care in Washington State reaching $14,844 per child, or 1.52 times the average annual tuition in Washington’s public four-year universities.
Every year, thousands of low-income families in the CCAC’s operating area are excluded from the child care market, a disastrous outcome, considering the well-researched fact that high-quality childcare directly links to higher academic achievement, future income, avoidance of the criminal justice system, and self-sufficiency. All told, every dollar invested in child care yields $4-12 in long-term savings and returns.
This was the situation before COVID-19 rocked the world. Now, more than 30% of U.S. child care facilities are slated to close by the end of the quarantine. The child care system, once laboring, is now on the brink of collapse, impacting millions of Americans, including the wonderful families that we serve in Thurston County, Mason County, and across the Olympic Peninsula.
If there’s one thing that I appreciate the most about my time in VISTA, it’s the opportunity to work with people who deserve to be looked up to. They show up to work every day to do the exhausting task of working to save as many children in our society as possible. The real privilege of being a VISTA is getting to work with good, kind people who make life better for the rest of us. So this post is for them. Thank you to my lovely coworkers and to everyone serving our community in these dark times. I see you.