When Future Achievers Preschool on Imperial Avenue in San Diego’s Greater Logan Heights had to shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, both the short-term and long-term future of more than two dozen children from low-income and military families was suddenly at risk.
That’s because Future Achievers, operated by the Logan Heights Community Development Corporation, isn’t just a child development center.
“What Future Achievers is all about is giving kids from this neighborhood an educational foundation, a chance to grow, and a chance to succeed,” said Ebony James, Chief Operating Officer of both the Logan Heights CDC and the Future Achievers program.
“Future Achievers provides the same opportunities for all children, no matter where they are from. This school was created for kids who don’t always have the same resources as kids from wealthy families to have an equal opportunity and when we had to close, I was devastated. Not just for our staff, but for our families,” she added.
Families with essential workers, military members, custodians, and other critical jobs were left without childcare as they also tried to navigate the crisis.
With the help of a $25,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund at The San Diego Foundation, Future Achievers was able to rehire its staff and reopen two months after shutting its doors, much to the relief of parents.
“Future Achievers Preschool has had such a positive and helpful impact on not only my son, who is enrolled in the preschool, but also my family’s life,” said James Garner, an Aviation Fuels First Class Petty Officer stationed on 32nd street Naval Base in San Diego whose wife, also in the Navy, was deployed shortly before the pandemic hit.
“Since being enrolled at Future Achievers, my son has learned his letters, how to write, math, almost everything my daughter has learned in her TK/Kindergarten class. When our daughter started school, he constantly asked what she learned or did, asked for homework and was sometimes even mad he didn’t go to school or learn. Future Achievers has fixed all of that and has helped him mature so much in the process,” he shared.
By granting tens of millions of dollars to childcare providers and preschools impacted by the pandemic, the COVID-19 Community Response Fund served as an important resource for San Diego County organizations like Logan Heights CDC. To date, the fund has raised more than $52 million and granted $50 million to organizations helping families and youth who are facing new challenges due to COVID-19.
The giving underscores an unprecedented effort by community foundations to help those impacted by COVID-19, with more than $1 billion raised to date and more than $800 million already distributed. An additional $1 billion in grants have been made by donor-advised funds managed at community foundations since the start of the pandemic.
Future Achievers was at its capacity in serving 26 children when it was forced to close during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.
The preschool was even in the process of securing a grant from The San Diego Foundation Early Childhood Initiative that would enable it to expand operations and serve even more children, but those plans have been delayed. When the childcare center reopened May 18 with the help of a $25,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund and a $62,000 loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, enrollment had fallen to just 15 children, though it is now back up to 21.
School operations remain challenging. Classes are limited to 10 children per teacher. Cleaning and disinfecting is a constant. Maintenance costs are escalating at the same time revenue is declining.
Future Achievers is not alone. A shortage of childcare spots plagued the county before COVID-19, and many preschools and childcare centers remain shuttered or are operating at reduced capacity. Childcare professionals say those factors will keep the economy from gaining steam, as parents cannot leave their young children to care for themselves while they go back to work.
The crisis is impacting all San Diegans while also revealing many of the inequities that have long existed in the region. Discussing how the childcare crisis is far more pronounced in communities of color, James shared, “The disparities were already there, but the pandemic pulled back the layers and illustrated how bad these disparities really are.
“People forget, many essential workers have families with small children who need childcare and solid early education programming,” James said.
In addition to the grantmaking and impact of the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, the County of San Diego, The San Diego Foundation, YMCA of San Diego County and Child Development Associates recently launched the San Diego County Childcare Provider Grant Program to support San Diego childcare providers offering essential services to local families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The $25 million initiative is an important step in supporting families and getting our community back to work amid the pandemic.