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Essential Worker Highlight: Jessica Chen

While medical personnel treat the coronavirus in our hospitals, other human service providers and essential workers are ensuring New Yorkers have the resources they need to not only remain safe but also continue to have opportunities to thrive. These individuals, whether working from home or within our neighborhoods, are supporting a strong recovery for those who are too often overlooked, underrepresented, or underinvested in.  

The following Q&A took place between Chris Kuo of CPC Leadership Council and Jessica Chen of CPC Early Childhood Learning and Wellness (ECLW) program. Jessica is ECLW’s Deputy Network Director. She supports hundreds of NYC family daycares in delivering high-quality, linguistically and culturally accessible early childcare programming. 

CPC Leadership Council is a tight-knit community of business and nonprofit leaders who seek to advance CPC’s mission to promote social and economic empowerment of Chinese American, immigrant, and low-income communities.

Join CPC in sharing stories of essential workers using the tag #AlwaysEssential and #EssentialWorkers. 

Essential Worker Highlight: Jessica Chen, ECLW Provider Service Coordinator 

Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: Could you describe your background?

Jessica Chen, Early Childhood Learning and Wellness (ECLW) Provider Service Coordinator: I’ve been with CPC for 25 years. I was born in Guangzhou, China, and came here when I was two. A neighbor recommended CPC’s services to my parents, who decided to enroll me in a CPC afterschool program in the Lower East Side throughout my elementary school years so that they could both work full-time. When I was 14, I got my first job at CPC’s summer camp in Brooklyn through the Summer Youth Employment Program. Later, I worked with CPC’s HIV/AIDS Services for five years until finishing college. Because my passion was working with children, I left CPC to go support an afterschool program, but came back a year and half later and joined ECLW. This was a way for me to make high-quality childcare programs available to our less-privileged community members. I didn’t get an early childhood learning experience myself because of the language barrier. There weren’t a lot of daycares then that spoke Chinese or that would enroll a child nobody could understand, so I really wanted to change that.

Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: What does ECLW do?

Jessica Chen, ECLW Provider Service Coordinator: Our program consists of both parent services and child care provider services. Every day we connect parents from all five boroughs to appropriate child care programs. Their children may be bilingual, English language learners, special needs children, victims of domestic violence, or foster children. For providers, we offer professional development assistance. We help people interested in opening a small daycare business in their home, guiding them from their first application with the Department of Health all the way through trainings required to obtain or maintain their license. We also travel to providers’ homes to make sure they’re in compliance with regulations. Our team conducts all these services in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Taishanese, and Spanish, with Korean support coming soon. We only have 18 staff but work with over 2,000 family childcare providers.

Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: What else can you tell us about your program?

Jessica Chen, ECLW Provider Service Coordinator: Over the past two years, we have grown out a CDA program for our providers. The CDA (Child Development Associate) is a nationally recognized credential for early childhood professionals. We’re proud to say that we’ve already trained over 36 providers in receiving their credentials and that we launched our first Chinese class this year. We also just got three new contracts with the Department of Education to manage our own borough-based family child care networks in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: How has Covid-19 affected your work?

Jessica Chen, ECLW Provider Service Coordinator: We’ve started conducting trainings virtually. We just had our first ever online training in Chinese with over 40 child care providers. Before the training, our team spent hours calling each of them to teach them how to utilize Zoom on their tablet, phone, or laptop. We’re launching a virtual training for 20-40 Spanish speakers this July. Because of Covid-19, we also have three new projects: One is checking in with providers on a day-to-day basis to see how they are doing – mentally, physically, and financially. Although larger daycare centers closed back in March, home child care providers have remained open for the children of essential workers. Many are being affected by Covid-19. The second project is helping providers obtain PPE (personal protective equipment). Providers go through masks and sanitizing products very quickly working with young children, and we’ve sometimes had to search supermarkets to locate these supplies for them. The third project involves the CARES Act, which covers daycare expenses for eligible essential workers. We’re checking invoices and making sure that families get paid.

Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your work and the communities you support every day?

Jessica Chen, ECLW Provider Service Coordinator: Asian American and Pacific Islanders have always been a minority group, and it’s hard seeing community members struggle because of their immigration status or a language barrier. With Covid-19, everybody’s worried and scared and not sure what to do. But I think seeing CPC staff from different boroughs come together to help as one organization has been great. We have a very supportive team and try our best to reach out to families because they need it. Our providers are also really passionate about what they do. Some have children whose parents were once also in their care, so those are generations of families growing up with the same provider. And when CPC advocates for better child care, these same community members are willing to speak up with us. I think that says a lot about our work.

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