Tiny feet running through the halls. Kids giggling with their friends between art projects. Babies napping while the older kids eat their lunch. Learning lessons after plenty of playtime. Science experiments followed by storytelling, singing songs followed by counting lessons. More giggling. More fun. More learning. All of that came to a halt at Early Learning Indiana when the coronavirus hit.

As Indiana’s oldest and largest early childhood education nonprofit, Early Learning Indiana provides leadership, advocacy, and early childhood education services to continually improve the early learning landscape in Indiana. Early Learning Indiana typically serves about 800 young people a day through their nine centers. Today, they are serving about 100 children – and primarily those of essential workers.

In March, Early Learning Indiana quickly responded to COVID-19 by opening its doors wider to serve the children of essential workers in need of child care. Many of their current families were following the shelter-in-place order, so Early Learning Indiana had the capacity, creativity, and compassion to help during a desperate time of need. They quickly responded by leveraging their partnership with IU Health to provide drop-in day care services for first responders and provided pop-up services for school-aged children in partnership with the YMCA. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep many children and families from accessing high-quality care, Early Learning Indiana is working diligently to support their teachers and families with professional development and out-of-class resources.

An emergency grant from Women’s Fund of Central Indiana is helping to support staff salaries to aid in retention during this time. According to Maureen Weber, Early Learning Indiana’s President & CEO, the organization is committed to retaining its staff, though acknowledge that is challenging given the nature of the work and compensation. Early Learning Indiana staffs nearly 200 educators and 100 other administrative staff.

“We have an incredibly talented team that we don’t want to lose – they would be too hard to replace,” said Maureen. “The emergency grant from Women’s Fund allows us to maintain staff salaries during this time. We know that eventually we are going to get on the other side of this, and it would be very problematic for us if we didn’t have our full team when we came back.”

Her team of talented teachers is providing curriculum in the classroom for the students they’re serving, while also providing activities for families who are at home. Learning lessons have been replaced by Zoom calls to help existing families stay connected and engaged, while activities have transitioned from the classroom to online. They’re doing all they can to stay connected with families and provide a safe place for the kids they’re serving.

It’s hard to predict what the immediate future will look like for Early Learning Indiana. Maureen and her staff are trying to work through various scenarios now. They are assuming numbers will be low as unemployment rises and families are staying home. No matter the situation, Maureen has complete faith in her team.

“Watching our team in action gives me a lot of joy,” shared Maureen. “It’s amazing to watch them come together to take care of the next generation with such passion and creativity.”

If you would like to learn more about Early Learning Indiana, visit earlylearningin.org. One thing Maureen said would be helpful right now for the organization is kid-sized masks that they could make available for the children they serve. A lot of effort has been made to provide frontline workers and adults with masks, but young children with small faces need to be protected too. Masks can be dropped off or mailed to Early Learning Indiana at 1776 N Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202.