Interview with Alyssa on
Alyssa talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic may influence norms in education and employment going forward.
Alyssa reflects on the fact that, as a single mother, she has already encountered many of the hardships brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alyssa is a mother of two who lives at Jeremiah Program’s Austin, Texas, campus. She spoke to us about the realities of navigating the limitations placed on her by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the situation reminds her of periods of instability she’s survived in the past.
How have the last few weeks been for you? How are you holding up?
We’re doing okay, as much as everybody else who is still healthy and just kind of stuck at home.
For me, personally, not a lot has changed, I guess. I’ve been experiencing a lot of these similar things as far as limitations on what you’re able to do without childcare or limited food resources or limited employment and money and things like that. That’s not a big new thing for me—to have to navigate unemployment or Medicaid or food stamps or getting to the grocery store without anybody to help you watch your kids. I think the only new challenge would be I’m trying not to take my kids to a grocery store.
But all the other things, even though it seems crazy, I feel actually capable of navigating it because it’s not something new to me, personally. I’m not feeling panicked because I know that I’ve been through something similar, if not worse in some circumstances. Thankfully, our threat of health right now is lower than some individuals’, though it is still there that we can catch the COVID when we’re out and about, and that would be terrible. Besides that particular issue, the rest of it—not being able to have childcare and not being able to go to work—those things I’m more familiar with.
When did you first hear about COVID-19, and when did you first realize that this pandemic was going affect your life?
I guess maybe in January. I listen to NPR news a lot when I’m driving, so I’ve been hearing about some things happening in China and the issues with the doctor who had been trying to alert the Chinese government about this. Even as things started to pick up as far as cases of illness and then deaths in China—because of things that constantly are occurring in our world, on our planet—a lot of times it’s easy to think, “Oh, that’s happening over here in this part of the world.” I just was listening to the news and things were happening, and I was like, “Okay, Italy…” And I just still thought, “There’s just a couple of cases of people who are traveling that are coming into the United States. This still isn’t going to be something that’s going to shut down everything,” you know?
I was at the grocery store on the Thursday before they declared everything is closed. I think they closed schools for spring break early, and for that week I already had a plan for Spring Break of the kids being home, me being out of work, and what that was going to look like for my schedule. So, even then, I didn’t even feel like I was impacted. It was just a regular Spring Break week. We don’t go out a lot or socialize out and about a lot, so it took a while for it to really feel like, okay, this is happening to everybody here right now.
What skills do you find yourself relying on at this time to get you through?
Definitely just inner peace and patience and knowing that things can get crazy but, fortunately, I have set up a nest to brace for things like—not quite like this, but for difficult circumstances. That’s why I’m here at Jeremiah Program, because I’ve encountered things like spotty employment, low income or gaps in income, or lack of childcare, or school closures and things like that.
I don’t have a lot of family support, which is why I’ve chosen to be at Jeremiah. So, Jeremiah has connected us with a lot of those resources. They still send us, “Here’s how you file for unemployment,” or “Here’s how you file for any health benefits or food benefits or resources with food banks and diapers,” and things like that in our community. Jeremiah has already set up that sort of communication with us so that we have access and are reminded where to look for these things. Having been with Jeremiah Program for a while now, too, I feel like I’m prepared in that sense of where to look for resources that I might be needing at this time.
What is going on with your job?
I was working for Austin Independent School District, the school system here. I was working at my daughter’s school, and then that closed, though. Now I don’t have a job. And it was just a temporary hourly position. I was a teacher aid; it was just by contract, so that’s ended now. They might not even go back to school at all for this semester, and that was the length of the contract. So, I’m unemployed now. Again. I had just gotten that job in February because it worked well with my daughter’s schedule. So, now she’s out of school and I’m out of the job. And then our childcare closed here, even at Jeremiah Program. So, my son is also at home.
How have you addressed this with the kids?
They don’t really seem phased at all. They just get to be at home all day with Mom, so that’s great. Other than that, I don’t want them to feel alarmed or upset or that there’s something serious going on outside. We talked about washing our hands and how to stay clean and sanitized when we’re going out, don’t put your hands on your face and put your hands in your mouth. You know, the regular stuff we try to work with kids on being clean and careful for their health. That’s kind of an ongoing conversation throughout any parent’s life with their child, especially toddlers. They love licking everything and touching everything when they’re out. So, that’s just been a regular conversation that was emphasized, I guess, and saying something like, “There’s a sickness, a really bad sickness going on right now, and we want everybody to stay safe and stay healthy, so we have to be extra careful to not spread our germs or to get any germs.” We’ve talked about what are germs and what’s the difference between a bacteria or virus? And watched a couple little online videos. There are these kid videos about the Amoeba Sisters, and they talk about viruses and bacteria and what does it do and how does it work. So, talking to them about it like that, I guess—like an educational reminder to be clean and stay healthy.
Is there anything else you would like to say about just how this time has affected you?
I do want to give another shout out to the Jeremiah Program for being there. They’ve provided snacks and toys and some household products, and some donors are trying to reach out to give gift cards and things like that. Even our childcare teachers have set up a YouTube account for the kiddos who miss their teacher; they can go on and hear her read a story or talk about their regular circle time and things like that. They’re definitely trying to help take care of us, even if it’s from a distance, and do provide phone [and] online coaching if we have a problem they feel that they can help troubleshoot.
How do you think things will be different going forward after this pandemic?
I just feel like it will never be exactly the same as it was before. There are some things that will inevitably change, like distance learning and distance jobs, working from home or doing education from home, whether it’s youth or college level; everybody is now adjusting.
I was already in a program that allowed me to do my college online. So, for me, I’d already made the adjustments for that kind of lifestyle, and I can work with that kind of learning. But that learning style isn’t for everybody. There might be a lot of people who had never tried it before that now have been forced to try it. Same thing with universities. Now that they’ve had to implement this program more widespread, they might maintain it better or be more open to the idea of people earning degrees at a distance or doing some sort of schooling at a distance from home. So, I feel like that is going to change.
And then also with employment, maybe because they’ve been forced to keep people home, that might make it easier in the future for people to work from home if they have a disability or something like that. If we were able to make it work during COVID, I don’t see why certain jobs wouldn’t be able to make it work in the future for people who really need it. I think that would be a positive takeaway for how the world might change after this.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and content.