“The big word is I’m lucky,” Astghik Saakyan said.
Astghik is the program director of Learning Stars Academy Child Care in Montebello, where she cares for children starting at infancy to 13 years old.
When the outbreak of COVID-19 forced not only child care facilities but much of the California economy to shut down last March, Astghik immediately felt the financial strain.
“I closed for a total of 14 days,” Astghik said. “During that time, I learned about (COVID-19) and started sanitizing and disinfecting everything, emptying my classrooms and cleaning it all.”
The closure of her child care facility coupled with the added costs of increased sanitization posed a serious financial hardship for Astghik, who said she was forced to pull money from her personal savings just to pay her mortgage.
“It was really hard,” Astghik said.
She continued teaching her students through Zoom lessons because many of them were in the middle of critical lessons on the alphabet and counting. Astghik said she couldn’t stand to see their progress stunted because of the pandemic.
“Those kids were headed to kindergarten and I wanted them to finish their curriculum,” Astghik said. “But parents weren’t paying because it was Zoom.”
As a child provider partner with Child Care Resource Center, Astghik soon learned about the incredible assistance and support available to providers like her.
CCRC Resource and Referral provided Astghik with disinfectant products, school supplies, financial assistance, and updates on health and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.
“No one else was helping me at this time,” Astghik said. “CCRC really made me feel like I had someone behind me, supporting me.”
With the help of CCRC, Astghik started welcoming in the children of essential workers in May.
“I was working alone because other teachers didn’t feel comfortable,” Astghik said. “It was hard because I had to teach and disinfect.”
As more employees across the county returned to work, Astghik did eventually receive an assistant for her program and now has 14 children in her care.
CCRC R&R continues providing support to Astghik in the form of supplies, funding, and professional development trainings on everything from pandemic health and safety to emotional support.
“Because of their big help, we can survive it, we can keep our high quality childcare,” Astghik said. “The parents are so happy. We do everything for families and they feel secure knowing they’re bringing their children to a safe environment.”