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By Tanya Slehria, Spring Communications Intern at CCSA

Tracy Pace’s favorite part of being an early childhood educator is “being there, being able to be an advocate for [children’s] success and being willing to listen and try to help parents reach out, find the resources [they need] and gain new skills.”

Tracy wears many hats in her role as a lead teacher at Nanna’s & Momma’s Child Care Center in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. “And my title kind of switches from day-to-day,” Tracy said. “It depends. I’m a very flexible person, but the majority of my time is used either as teaching in a classroom or in the office as an executive assistant.” 

After high school, Tracy said, “I decided to get married instead of go to school…my husband and I were married for 5 years and our first child came along…We didn’t want them to do the same thing we’ve done. We wanted [them] to try to be smarter than that. So, we both had enrolled in school…Our second child came along and I just piddled here and there and did a class. So, it took me 26 years to get my associate’s degree and I’ve just done that this July [2019]” from Blue Ridge Community College.

Tracy’s educational journey may be filled with twists and turns, yet her commitment to education and early childhood education has remained consistent throughout her 30-plus years in the field. While working toward her degree, she was still supporting her family of four children as well. 

After graduating, Tracy enrolled in Brevard College. It was through her persistence and encouragement that they began offering a birth-to-kindergarten program and an education program for students to receive teaching licenses. She continued to pave her own path, and as she told Brevard, “I’d love to [enroll with] the T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship.” At the time, Brevard was not participating with CCSA’s T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, but Tracy’s determination led them to offer the scholarship. “So, in 10 classes, I’ll have my Bachelor’s degree,” Tracy said.

Tracy’s involvement with T.E.A.C.H. began with her work at Nanna’s & Momma’s where she became a Child Care WAGE$® recipient. At the time, she was her mother’s full-time caregiver, a full-time student, a full-time employee and a full-time mother. She credits her ability to keep up with it all to the WAGE$ supplement.

“The [WAGE$] supplement has allowed me not to have [a second job] and to help me manage all these other different things, as first of all, a wife and mother, and second of all, someone who wants to give back to their community. Without [WAGE$], it wouldn’t have been possible,” said Tracy. 

Tracy is as dedicated a teacher as she is a student. Her goal has always been to teach. Teaching “fits my family’s needs,” said Tracy.

Before her time in the classroom, Tracy worked as the assistant director for the Brevard Davidson River Presbyterian Church and was involved with various organizations. Her position helped her form a network of connections that serve as a benefit to her current role as an educator. “I think community resources is my biggest strength—those connections outside of this job and those I made before I got into this current job,” said Tracy. “I know people to call by name at the Social Services office. I would say that’s one of the biggest things for teachers, in general, is being able to know and have a list of those resources and know people by name.” 

Tracy attributes her teaching style to her community. “I’ve grown a lot and become a lot more flexible as I understand and continue to try to edge out a living in the community that I’ve worked and raised my kids in and [one that] they would love to come back to,” she said. She also credits her passion for reading, “which has given me an understanding and [ability to find] solutions, or things I can try, and that not all kids are the same.”

“We know everything we need to know before we’re age 5. That’s the point and most people miss that. They think we’re not anything until we’re 5 and go to kindergarten, but every child learns all their coping skills, their ability to receive and give information before the age of 5,” said Tracy.

Written by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

In October 2016, Michelle Roach received a call on a Tuesday morning—she would be fostering Jordan, a 6-day-old baby. “I wasn’t really prepared for actually searching for [child care],” Michelle said. “I’m a solo parent, so it was a big adjustment to do that, and as soon as he came into the home, we had a clock ticking. We had eight weeks at home with him and then he needed to find somewhere to go during the day.”

Parents often need a place to start as they begin their child care search. This is where Child Care Services Association’s Child Care Referral Central comes in. Child Care Referral Central is a trusted resource for families looking for child care, helping them find care based on their needs and providing information and resources at their request.

“We are in a unique position to link families, child care providers and the community together, so that parents can get all their child care answers in one place,” said Christy Thalheimer, referral manager at CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central.

“By going to Child Care Services Association, it really did allow me to have one place where I could ask my questions,” Michelle said. “I could get more information about both center-based [child care] but also family-based [child care]. I was able to sit down with a counselor and talk about what resources I had available to me, the subsidy through [the Department of Social Services] and what was available in the community.”

CCSA’s referral counselors can walk a family through all their child care options at each age of their children. From infant care to after school care, CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central can provide the tools families need to find the right child care for their children.

Often people see child care resource and referral programs (CCR&Rs) as only available to families who are most at risk due to poverty or special circumstances. While the Department of Social Services (DSS) offers a Child Care Subsidy program that uses state and federal funds to provide subsidized child care services to eligible families, finding the right child care is an important piece of the work-life puzzle for every family, no matter their income. Community members often ask if services are only for those in financial need, but CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central is available to every family in the nine-county area of Alamance, Caswell, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Orange, Person, Vance and Wake counties.

Silvana Rodriguez was Michelle’s child care counselor at Child Care Referral Central. She has been a counselor for more than seven years.

“[Michelle] walked into the office…and then told me that she was a first time parent, she was going to receive an infant and she was nervous about the whole process,” Silvana said. “So, I answered all of her questions. She had several questions about the types of care, the differences between them, and then I did a [customized] search for her based on [her work and home addresses]…We talked about national accreditation and what to look for, and then after that, we made a package for her with all the different information that may be useful for her.”

“One of the things, it was so small but it helped me so much, was that all of that information was placed in one packet and handed to me,” Michelle said. “In the chaos of my life of having a newborn and figuring everything out, having this one place I could go back to with all the phone numbers and all the information about ratings and other really helpful things in one spot made something that could have been really overwhelming more manageable. I was able to periodically when I had the time, make phone calls, set up tours and narrow down where he ended up going between two really high-quality centers. I picked one that was closer to my work, and I was really happy with the results from that.”

Silvana loves helping families like Michelle’s.

“That’s the thing that drives all us counselors because you can see the results when you follow up with them, and especially when they find a great quality place, and just going through their options and helping them navigate everything in terms of finding child care,” Silvana said.

“[CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central] made the already challenging process of being a solo parent and figuring out the process of DSS and foster care, and also just the challenge that every parent faces when they have to go back to work, which is that you’re leaving your tiny human being with other people, to really make that easier and to make me feel better about that process and more comfortable with him being there and knowing that he would be cared for in a reputable space,” Michelle said. “I didn’t have the pressure of having to Google or guess. I had all that information in one spot, and for me, that really made all the difference.”

Jordan turns three at the end of next month. He’s is “graduating” from Early Head Start and will transition over to another classroom in the same center mid-August. Michelle has thought about reaching out to CCSA again to speak with a counselor about more child care options. “I’m hoping to participate in the Universal Pre-K program next August,” Michelle said.

You can hear more about Michelle’s story by watching the video below.

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as the Child Care Referral Central, please donate today.