Advocate in Action
Susan Shipherd came to know Unity House through her friendship with the late Mary Jane Smith and John Lyons. Susan believed in the social justice work the pair were engaged in. Susan and her husband Jim supported Unity House and other causes by attending events, volunteering, and asking others to support the mission of Unity House, through sponsorships or donations. Retirement gave Susan more time to volunteer and she joined the board of directors. Serving on a board for a non-profit can be time-consuming yet Susan found time to also volunteer at A Child’s Place at Unity House.
Originally called Unity Sunshine, ‘where children of all abilities grow and learn together,’ A Child’s Place serves children ages 6 weeks to 5 years of age. More than a daycare, the program provides early intervention services for children with developmental delays, special education preschool, and community-based UPK. On site, Susan saw how valuable these services were to the children who received them and to the families who relied on the care and expertise found at A Child’s Place.
The pandemic sidelined Susan from volunteering in person. It also brought to light the serious problems in the child care sector, historically underfunded. Providers of childcare operate on thin margins, many earning less than minimum wage. There are too few providers, especially for working families living in a child care desert. Child care is labor-intensive and too expensive. With the disruption caused by the pandemic, some parents were unable to return to work, for lack of care. Families and workers need transportation solutions to even get to child care.
This bleak picture galvanized Susan, who joined Unity House’s Advocacy Committee, advocating for support of the child care sector. As she sees it, “Child care is essential and should be seen as part of our infrastructure. Just like public transportation helps people get to work, child care helps parents get to work. Childcare needs to be available and affordable.”
New York State is making some changes. Eligibility thresholds for assistance with child care are expanding, with a campaign to promote awareness to families. More needs to be done, for the providers, working parents, the childcare workforce, and children.
Susan knows this better than anyone since she was once a child care provider. In the 1960s, with small children of her own, she started watching children in her home and was a licensed child care provider. It was not easy work. When Susan’s children became of school-age she moved to the Capital Region and worked outside the home. Like parents everywhere, she cobbled together solutions for child care. It shouldn’t be so difficult. Susan has seen first hand how we all benefit when families have child care and parents can fully engage in the workforce.
Many thanks to Susan for taking the time to share about her work. We are grateful for all she does. If you’d like to learn more about volunteering or how you can advocate for the needs in your community, please get involved.