Night shift workers are out of sync – clocking in when others get home, breakfasting in the moonlight, crawling into bed as neighbors caffeine and dive into the dawning day.
For Erica Carter, a single mom from Lansdale who works 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., an even bigger problem than the offbeat pace of her life was finding care for her 2-year-old son at night.
Like so many single mothers, Carter, who finds treatment for people suffering from drug addiction, was forced to choose between her child and work. Then someone told her about Along the Way, which sends childcare workers to low-income single mothers to care for children overnight or on weekends, mostly in Montgomery County.
“I pray that programs like this last forever,” said Carter, who is studying to become a nurse. “I don’t know how I would survive without it. Sometimes I break down and cry with gratitude.
The nonprofit, which relies on donations and grants, also sponsors career assistance programs and reduced access to lawyers and even auto mechanics to get women out of the woodwork. poverty. All of this is free for single mothers who earn 200% of the federal poverty level or less, which is no more than $36,000 a year for a family of two.
Across the country, childcare is generally two things: expensive and only available during the day.
In Pennsylvania, the median cost for any of its 7,965 child care providers is $290 per child per week and can reach as high as $627 per child, some mitigated by state subsidies and federal, according to researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Mühlenberg College. Yet federal figures show that of 13.5 million American children eligible for child care subsidies, only 1.9 million receive them.
Before the 6 p.m. strike, the vast majority of parents around the world are expected to quickly pick up their children from hectic daily meetings. According to Child Care Aware of America, a research and advocacy organization in Arlington, Va., only 8% of US daycares and 33% of home daycares are open after 7 p.m. or on weekends.
Along the Way aims to help night and weekend workers, especially those in hospitality, retail and restaurant jobs who have been the first to lose their jobs during the pandemic.
The nonprofit was founded by three women, including April Matt, 42, from Souderton, a trauma educator. “Each of us is a Christian who has felt called to do something greater for our community,” she said. Matt was a single mother herself, she added, “but I had shelter and financial and social support. It’s not the story of the low-income women I see, tinkering with childcare with a neighbor or an ex. Maybe it’s healthy, maybe not.
Along the Way is believed to be the only such nonprofit organization in the state.
“It’s very rare,” said Cindy Lehnhoff, director of the National Child Care Association, headquartered in Annandale, Va., outside of Washington. She couldn’t think of another program like this.
Lehnhoff added that child care centers cannot attract enough parents or staff to offer overnight services, even though about 15 million Americans work night shifts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. People with means can hire live-in nannies, she explained, but it’s not cheap.
“What’s offered along the way is very much needed,” concluded Lehnhoff. “We need to get great ideas like this from people who think outside the box.
“More power for them.”
Of the five million total families in Pennsylvania, 415,000 are headed by single parents, 80% of them women, according to US census figures.
Kristina Valdez, Executive Director of Along the Way, would love to help them all. Yet, she said, the “little diamond” of a program has logged 8,000 hours caring for 15 families with 40 children in its six years of operation. Thirty families are on the waiting list. Limited funding has kept numbers low, she added.
But that is about to change.
Along the Way provides employer-subsidized overnight programs that will provide childcare services to workers who would pay on a sliding scale. The nonprofit works with a food processing plant in Philadelphia, as well as two beach resorts in northeastern Pennsylvania.
“We’re trying to figure out something that hasn’t been done before,” Valdez said.
Linda Rice, owner of Mountain View Winery in Stroudsburg, Monroe County, said she was supportive of the effort.
“The challenge we have in the tourism industry is getting people to work for us in the evenings or on the weekends,” said Rice, who recently joined the association’s board of directors in nonprofit.” That might help.”
Erica Carter’s son, Carter Daily, loves his night carer on the way so much that he will pester his mother to take her to the wife’s house on the days she doesn’t sleep at Carter’s.
Carter said she was relieved that her son and carer, Kori Yancey, 43, of Hatfield, had bonded.
Yancey returns the ardor.
“Carter is adorable and funny,” she said. “Caring for him is like taking care of my own children. I like bedtime routines, getting up in the morning. I wash the dishes and put away the toys.
A mother of six children ages 3 to 20, Yancey has degrees in psychology and family science. Her husband, Will, a second grade teacher at Samuel Pennypacker Elementary School in West Oak Lane, is home in the evenings for the children.
Yancey sleeps in a bed at Carter’s and eats the food she brings. She, like other caregivers at Along the Way, has undergone extensive criminal and child abuse background checks, is trained in CPR and offers extensive referrals.
“I think I’m a good fit for this job because of my heart,” Yancey said. “I ended up doing this because I care.
“Also, my husband and I always do our best when people try to improve, and Erica is a great woman. We give them as much support as possible.”
As vital as the service is for families, sleeping arrangements also benefit caregivers.
“It’s not weird to sleep over at someone else’s house,” said former Along the Way carer Carmen Johnson, 29, of Telford, Bucks County. “It’s comforting to be in an environment where the child sleeps and where everyone is safe.
“Another family is forming. It creates new relationships. I like the whole mission.
The fact that few people have heard of the nonprofit is of little concern to Marsha Eichelberger, executive director of Family Promise, an Ambler nonprofit that helps homeless people.
“It’s a great and innovative program serving the community and trying to grow,” she said.
What offers along the way is safety in an uncertain world, said former client Maria Garcia, 35, of Harleysville, who left her two children with the nonprofit when she worked weekends for CVS.
“I was born in Mexico,” said Garcia, now a guide for adults with disabilities. “I heard the phrase ‘It takes a village’ when I first came to America, and it’s true. Along the Way breaks cycles, changing the way people think about childcare.
“They helped me to be stable. And they have become part of our lives.
The Inquirer is one of more than 20 news outlets producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project about solutions to poverty and the city’s efforts toward economic justice. Find all our reports on brokeninphilly.org.