Ten months after a group of college students began offering free child care to medical workers in the Coachella Valley during the coronavirus pandemic, organizers say the program’s offerings are continuing to expand, along with the group’s impact.
“We have a volunteer in the Coachella Valley who has spent over 700 hours in a medical worker’s house watching over her immune-compromised daughter so that she can go to work and pay her bills,” Ryan Cieslikowski, a COVID Community Care co-founder, told City News Service. “That medical worker recently called us a `miracle.”’
COVID Community Care — initially called COVID Child Care — was born last March following a late-night Zoom video-conferencing discussion between Cieslikowski, 21, and several friends and fellow graduates of Palm Desert High School.
Cieslikowski, who’s now a student at Stanford University, said the idea was rooted in a question concerning the well-being of essential workers in the medical industry — “who is going to take care of their kids if they are all having to go to work?”
The group decided to lend a hand, not just to physicians and nurses, but to janitorial staff keeping hospitals clean, and security guards keeping hospitals safe — anybody working in the medical industry on the front lines of the pandemic.
Since those early days in the Coachella Valley, the organization has grown to comprise more than 600 volunteers, with branches up and down California — including in San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties — with others in Nevada and Utah.
Cieslikowski estimates that the loose network of volunteers has saved health care workers hundreds of thousands of dollars since its inception.
What started as a free child care service for local health care workers has now morphed into also offering free virtual tutoring for the children of medical industry workers nationwide.
“We soon realized that some medical workers had child care, they had people who could look after their kids, but that didn’t mean they had people to help with school,” Cieslikowski said.
With the rising popularity of Zoom, organizers saw a catalyst for expanding their offerings nationwide, he said.
Cieslikowski credits 20-year-old Pasha Mehranpour, a UC San Diego student, with the idea of expanding tutoring outside of the confines of the organization’s child care branch system. Now, medical workers from around the country can log on to the COVID Community Care website and request tutoring help for their children, at no cost.
Mehranpour, now the tutoring director, told City News Service that he knows from his own family experience that online learning presents specific challenges for students.
“It’s been hard for a lot of families. It’s been hard for a lot of kids to do well, to sit there on a computer all day, to really learn properly,” Mehranpour said.
Using technology as a catalyst, organizers saw an opportunity to help medical workers in a way that would have been impossible just a generation ago.
“We have this digital infrastructure in this country we’ve never had before,” Cieslikowski said. “People know how to use Zoom. People are willing to Zoom with somebody across the country. Now we can have a volunteer in Los Angeles that can help out a third-grader in Nebraska and help them turn their grades around.”
With an expanded set of services, and a new name, organizers are continuing to look for new challenges, including advocacy.
Cieslikowski said the group plans to use social media to advocate for solutions to systemic problems confronting American society — including the lack of access to child care that spurred a need for COVID Community Care in the first place.
For more information, or to assist help or volunteer, go to www.covidcommunitycare.org/.
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