Kim Johnston is the new director the Addison Road Early Learning Centre. She only started in the job last November, but can safely say, “It’s been really challenging times. Bushfires, floods, and now this.”
As much as these things can have an impact on the children (aged 0 to 6 years) she is responsible for at the Addison Road Early Learning Centre, Kim admits many are too young to really understand what is happening now with COVID-19. At times it’s the more subtle thing of them picking up on people’s feelings and being aware of how that might be communicated. For Kim, it’s really more a matter of managing the emotions and needs of her staff so that they can do the best work possible with, and for the children.
She explains that her staff have “vulnerabilities, like all of us, at this time. Some have elderly parents they are part-time carers for. Others are people with compromised immune systems, people who suffer from asthma, for instance, as I do. Which of course makes them very vulnerable at this time, and a little more stressed than usual.”
Thinking of her own allergies and asthma problems, Kim tells me how she started coughing on a crowded train only last week. “The way I was eye-balled down the aisles you really had to be there to see it. I actually told people, but of course it doesn’t matter what you say. No one believes you.”
With two young children of her own attending primary school and child care, Kim does not take her own role for granted – as a concerned parent, or a professional. “I’m confident we are doing everything we can right at the Early Learning Centre. But we are not miracle workers. We have fantastic hygiene practices, and a culture and staff with a very strong nurturing and caring background that goes right through their lives.”
“You have to understand, though, that we are face to face with babies every day. I rocked a baby to sleep just two hours ago. She was not at a self-soothing age to be able to do that herself. You can talk about all the social distancing you like, but what else am I supposed to do in that situation?
“The parents are not ignorant of how young their children are when they leave them with us. We have doctors, nurses and teachers dropping off their kids and apologising to us, feeling bad about it. We say to them, ‘Hey, we understand. You have an important role to play, especially now.”
“We also look after children that are from families that are quite isolated, for parents that don’t have a family close by, or even any family at all. When that is the case, we are the next option for support.”
Kim says Addison Road Community Organisation’s Food Pantry has been very important to the Early Learning Centre, especially over these last few weeks during the COVID-19 crisis. Her usual supermarket delivery to the Early Childhood Centre was, she says, “deleted off the system last week. So there was this scramble to get what we needed any way we could. I found myself battling crowds at a supermarket, doing things I did not want to do in my personal life that my professional life now suddenly demanded of me.”
“Addi Road’s Food Pantry was a life saver in the circumstances. Without the Food Pantry for our pasta and other basics we’d be in real trouble.”
Kim sits out front of the Food Pantry today with her shopping bags and looks around the grounds. “We used to take the children for ‘Walks on Country’ every day, just down to the garden patch. We’d teach them a little bit of mindfulness. On the way back we’d let the children to a shop at Food Pantry, all of us together. Just to get some sourdough bread and some pieces of fruit and sit together and eat.”
“We can’t be doing it now, of course. But we always considered it part of our everyday learning. I liked seeing that when I first came here to work. The visibility of children in this Centre is quite a lovely thing. The children get to know all the communities here. And be part of them.”
“I can see how varied that can be just by looking out at the carpark and watching people gather and wait to shop at the Food Pantry. All kinds of people, many of whom can’t afford to shop anywhere else. Like the other day, all these people coming here for a bag full of peaches each. Something like that – a bag full of peaches – can make or break somebody in those circumstances. It really can.
“I think the Food Pantry has really upped the availability of good nutritious food for people in need. We know that the virus will attach itself to someone who does not have the nutrition, the right food, that helps build up immunity. And who is most likely to be missing that kind of good food in their lives? The elderly, the poor, the homeless. So I can see how those groceries and fruit and vegetables from the Food Pantry are very important.
“It’s been a real backstop for us and the children at the Addison Road Early Learning Centre. And when I come here to shop I can see what a wonderful thing it is for all these other people in our community too.”
Story by Mark Mordue