For the past 111 years, Saint Vincent’s has been serving Alameda County parents who can’t afford the exorbitant cost of private childcare
By MARISA KENDALL | Bay Area News Group
Sherie Williams was working a job she loved and approaching the home stretch of parenthood, with two pre-teens and a 19-year-old, when her life was turned completely upside down.
Her sister, who was going through a rough patch, could no longer take care of her own children, and Williams felt like she had no choice but to step up and adopt her two little nieces. So she quit her job of 11 years as a security guard at Wells Fargo to take care of the girls. Three years later, her sister had a son, and Williams adopted him too.
It wasn’t how Williams pictured her life turning out. Just as she should be preparing to become an empty-nester, she instead is now 45 and raising 3-year-old Shawn, 7-year-old Renyce and 9-year-old Makalah as a single mom with no income apart from child-support payments.
It might have been impossible if it weren’t for one organization: Saint Vincent’s Day Home. The West Oakland daycare, preschool and kindergarten offers affordable care and education for low-income children while their parents work or search for jobs.
To Williams, Saint Vincent’s is an oasis of stability in what could easily become a chaotic life.
“I know that my baby’s in a really good environment,” Williams said of Shawn, who is in the “dragonfly” class at Saint Vincent’s. “I leave him in good hands and I feel good and I have no worries.”
For the past 111 years, Saint Vincent’s has been serving Alameda County parents who can’t afford the exorbitant cost of private childcare. The center’s 133 kids ages 2 to 6 spend their days playing, listening to story time, napping and learning numbers and letters — but they also get a nutritious breakfast and lunch each day, as well as screenings by nursing students from Samuel Merritt University to check for health problems. The center helps parents too, offering parenting classes and a food bank.
The majority of Saint Vincent’s kids come from families making up to 85% of the state’s median income — about $95,000 a year for a family of four. Families typically pay on a sliding scale depending on their income and number of children, for a maximum monthly rate of $700 — far less than the going rate for private daycare. The center stopped charging families during the pandemic, and doesn’t expect to start again until at least July 2023.
Saint Vincent’s hopes to have a total of 200 kids enrolled within the next few months, and is working on hiring more teachers — despite a nationwide shortage — to make that happen. There are more than 100 kids on the center’s waitlist.
For the holidays, Saint Vincent’s wants to give the families of each of those 200 children a $50 gift card. They get donated toys and books to give out as presents, but those gift cards — for Target or a local grocery store — can help families buy winter clothes, food for a holiday dinner, and more during an expensive and stressful season, said Bianca Lewis, Saint Vincent’s director of development.
To accomplish that, Saint Vincent’s is hoping to raise $10,000 in donations through the East Bay Times’ annual Share the Spirit campaign. Every year, Share the Spirit highlights nonprofit agencies that are helping the neediest among us.
Williams has benefited from those gift cards.
“Without the gift cards, Shawn, the girls and my kids would have a very dim Christmas,” she said. “I would not have been able to provide as many smiles as I’ve been able to.”
Saint Vincent’s also plans to start offering counseling for kids who need mental health care. Many of the program’s children already have experienced trauma in their short lives — the death of a parent or other tragedy, or just the daily hardships of living in poverty.
“We try to help at this early level when the child is developing to help prevent and/or reverse the negative impacts of poverty and family instability,” Lewis said, “in hopes that they will go on and attain that education that will help them and their future families.”
It’s a method Williams knows well. After all, she also went to Saint Vincent’s as a kid.
Williams was raised by her aunt, who left her at Saint Vincent’s while she worked as a nurse in San Francisco. Williams remembers Saint Vincent’s being “too much fun…almost like a miniature Disneyland.”
So when history repeated itself and Williams found herself raising her nieces and nephew, she returned to the place that had given her so many happy childhood memories.
Now that her nieces are in elementary school, Williams is back on the job market. She leaves 3-year-old Shawn at Saint Vincent’s from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. while she looks for work.
“Without them, I’m not certain of how I would be able to continue this search of looking and getting something that will help myself and my family,” she said as Shawn, who calls her “TT,” snuggled into her, his wild curls sticking up every which way.
Saint Vincent’s also made a big difference in the lives of Marco Gudiño and his son, Bodhi. Gudiño was desperate when he happened to ride his bicycle by Saint Vincent’s one day 15 years ago. He had just become a single father to his 3-year-old son, after the boy’s mother left, and he had no idea what to do. Bodhi was acting out, and Gudiño had no one to watch him while he worked two jobs loading airplanes for FedEx and driving forklifts at the Port of Oakland.
Gudiño applied to Saint Vincent’s and was accepted. Bodhi learned to read and write there. And today Bodhi, now 18, is studying sports medicine at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga. Gudiño is so proud he can hardly talk about it without crying.
But he doesn’t think any of it would have happened without Saint Vincent’s.
“They kind of gave us the hope that we needed,” he said, “or that I needed to be able to believe in myself to be able to raise a child.”
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