Since beginning of the pandemic earlier this year, our lives have been turned upside down in more ways than we could count, some of us lost our jobs, many were impacted by school closings, and we are all more isolated than we have ever been. While some of us working in the medical field, staffing grocery stores and restaurants, operating public transportation, drove truck, providing critical police or fire services, and other “essential” industries continued to go to work, others were asked to remain in their homes to stay safe and slow the spread.
While these essential working families needed to physically show up to work every day, our community continued to need safe and reliable childcare while they were on the frontlines. Encompass Early Education and Care, Inc. led by executive director Sue Vincent, chose to remain open and continue to provide high-quality care for children across its seven Brown County locations.
Encompass provides care and education for children as young as 6 weeks old up to 12 years, and they serve more than 1,300 children a year. So, when the pandemic hit, Sue knew the decision to close would not only impact the Encompass staff, but the many families that depend on their critical service. Amid the many challenges of ever-evolving state and federal regulations and the fear that a pandemic brings to staff and families, Sue chose to remain open, understanding it was the socially responsible thing to do.
Sue quickly went into action, gathered her executive team to address the very real concerns and fears of families and staff. There were many questions and concerns they needed to address, for example:
- Is it safe to bring my child in?
- I have been laid off. Will you be here for me when this is over?
- I cannot pay for care as my hours have been cut, can you help?
- How do I feed my family now that I have older children not in school?
- As a teacher, I am afraid I will catch the virus. How do we know if our children are healthy?
- Will I still be able to work at Encompass even though enrollment is down? How do we pay staff when revenue has dropped significantly?
Sue took courageous and insightful actions. Encompass immediately asked our Foster Grandparents, older adults who help in the classrooms to mentor and encourage the children, to stay home with pay to protect this vulnerable age group. Sue offered employees the option to work from home if they could. The agency quickly instituted enhanced cleaning and health screening for everyone entering the buildings. The staff continued to be paid 100% of their wage even though hours were cut as the number of children served dropped significantly.
Sue understood her staff needed to support their own families and was willing to take the financial risk as revenue dropped. She visited centers to listen to teachers and address their fears. Sue led. She met with her executive team daily to review the ever-changing landscape. They implemented each new city and state guideline and regulation, they listened to umpteen webinars and conference calls, they applied for emergency funding, and they sought advice from local health providers – and, at every turn, they were always focused on the children, looking for ways to provide stability and continuity amidst the chaos.
Sue informed the board of directors on all matters and they embraced and encouraged her actions. Sue innovated. Weekend family food packages for children with food insecurity were assembled. Tuition assistance scholarships were offered. Summer fun play baskets with paper, markers, games, puzzles, balls, chalk and other items were distributed to children in families living in poverty. Under her thoughtful guidance, the agency cancelled The Big Event, the major fundraiser for the agency, over concerns for the well-being of all involved.
Encompass continues to struggle with the economic impacts of the pandemic, but their doors remain open. It helps a when they hear families express deep gratitude for the programs and teachers who continue to provide care and education for their children. Fortunately, all staff remain employed. There have even been a few silver linings: new partnerships were formed by working together with other organizations; new donors were attracted to an agency on the frontline, and helped to fund weekend food packages, no contact thermometers, tuition assistance scholarships, and other essential needs.
Sue was nominated for an Ethie by her colleague Tracy Ardnt. Tracy feels inspired working alongside Sue, and says, “While Encompass may not be thriving at this moment, I am confident we will survive because of Sue’s leadership and her focus on our mission to serve all children with compassion and advocacy and excellence.” Another colleague, Debbie Ashman added, “Sue has been such a great leader this year, very encouraging to staff and families.”
Encompass is a nonprofit organization with goal of providing a stimulating and accepting environment present a curriculum/program that develops the whole child – socially, emotionally, intellectually and physically. To find out more about Sue’s work at Encompass, visit www.encompasswi.org.