After two years of battling the coronavirus, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Child Development professionals now are optimistically looking toward the future.

CPN has three child care programs, the West Child Care Center, East Child Care Center and after school program. West Center Manager Courtney Garza said the past two years challenged employees like never before, but their dedication made the difference.

As the guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus changed almost weekly, managing complex emotions about the pandemic became more difficult. However, the staff adapted.

“We’ve always known how to leave it at the door. Even with the pandemic and the unknowns, we still had to maintain that. We have to maintain composure and be there for the children because they’re looking to us for guidance, and they can tell when a teacher is feeling (stress),” Garza said.

On the frontlines

As people learned about the coronavirus, everyone felt anxious about avoiding infection, Garza said.

“There’s a little bit of panic, naturally. But we immediately set to extra cleanings. We (asked) parents (not to enter) the building. We would go get the children from their parents and then bring them in. That way, we reduced the amount of people coming in the building as best as we could,” she said.

The staff followed public health guidelines with the guidance of CPN Health Services. The Tribe implemented mandatory masks and temperature checks for all its enterprises. For child care, that also included parents, vendors and other necessary visitors to the facility. Thermometer scanners and masks were purchased for each facility.

The staff also changed their usual lunchtime routines.

“We tried to have the (staff) not go to lunch places as much, and we started providing extra groceries and cooking so that we could feed our staff here. That way, we weren’t bringing to-go boxes in the building. At the beginning, nobody really knew how the virus was being spread,” Garza said.

As soon as proven prevention methods became available, child development staff implemented them.

“We found a special fogging solution that helps prevent the spread of illness, and it’s safe for the children. We immediately got that one as soon as we could, and we started using that,” she said.

Garza said all these measures helped parents feel more comfortable about sending their child back to care following quarantine. The facilities also became more flexible with their attendance policy.

“I think that gave a lot of parents peace of mind because we already did a lot of cleaning, but then that on top of it eliminated a lot of concerns,” she said. “We let parents pull their children if they were working from home. Some people lost jobs, and we just held their spots for a long time. We knew with the situation that a lot of people were afraid to bring them. We encouraged parents working from home to go ahead and keep their children home when they could. That way, we had the least amount of people here possible.”

Supporting working parents

While some people transitioned to work-from-home environments, not everyone had that option. Garza said center employees knew that working parents depend on reliable child care. Parents attending higher education or professional training also needed the centers to remain open.

“We have parents who are nurses and child care workers at other places and all sorts of jobs. We have a lot of (CPN) employees’ children, and they had to continue working because their (workplace was no longer working) from home. We had to maintain our continuity of care,” she said.

Parents who receive child care subsidy payments were grateful the centers stayed open. Under the program, qualifying Native American children attend care with financial support from the federal government.

“During COVID, our director covered their co-pays. I think that blessed a lot of families that they didn’t have to make their co-pay because they weren’t able to work. They could still bring their child here while they’re out searching for a job and not be stressed out about making that payment. I know a lot of parents said, ‘Thank you. I needed somewhere for my kid to go because I was still in school.’ Even for parents, it’s hard to do schoolwork while you have your child at home running around,” Garza said.

Support from health services

Garza said CPN Child Development felt fortunate to rely on CPNHS when virus tests were scarce. As other child care facilities scrambled to find tests, CPNHS stepped up to provide them. Parents did not have the added stress of locating a test.

“I know parents were stressing out about getting them tested. For us to be able to say, ‘We’ll provide the testing at this time; you don’t have to worry about anything else’ is great,” Garza said.

“I think CPN as a whole was really blessed to get the amount of testing that they could. Then providing the vaccines to staff was a blessing because we didn’t have to wait other places to get that done. We were able to get it at the very beginning.”

Staff dedication

Garza has worked for CPN Child Development for nine years. For four years, she has been the manager at the West Child Care Center.

The staff tried to find fun activities to do, to relieve any anxiety staff might be feeling, Garza said. Child Care Director Donnette Littlehead often ordered lunch for the entire staff or provided snacks in the break room to lift morale.

While they look forward to the coronavirus no longer dominating the day-to-day operations, they still follow the latest health and safety guidelines.

Garza feels incredibly grateful for the efforts of everyone in Child Development.

“They’re very hardworking. They’ve kept a positive attitude for the last two years. (Child care can be) a difficult field for some people to be in. But we have maintained some really great staff that pushed through and came to work every day with a smile on their faces. I appreciate their hard work and staying positive for the children. They’re doing their best to keep it a healthy and safe environment for everybody,” she said.

Find the Child Development Center online at