Davis Vanguard: Yolo Crisis Nursery Continues to Save Lives

 By Iliana Magana

DAVIS — The Yolo Crisis Nursery is a safe haven for numerous parents in need of nurturing child care and assistance. Heather Sleuter, the Executive Director of the Yolo Crisis Nursery, spoke about what it’s like working there and helping members of the community. 

When asked, “What has proven to be the most challenging part?” of working at The Nursery, Sleuter said, “Since we are a crisis nursery, we never know what kind of crisis will present itself when the phone rings or there is a knock on our door. The cases we see can be dramatic and heartbreaking, but the reward of seeing families emerge together and be more resilient is the most rewarding part of our work at the Nursery. “

Additionally, Sleuter stated, “We are open and helping children and families 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Last year we served almost 700 children and provided over 2,600 safe stays for at-risk children and distributed over 2,700 care packages of childcare essentials like diapers, wipes, formula, and clothing.”

She was also asked if there is a specific time limit for parents to receive aid, to which she responded, “As a crisis nursery, we offer 30 days of care over a 60-day period.”

​Sleuter shared that a caseworker is assigned to each child, parent or family. She said, “The caseworker will work with family members and create a step-by-step plan to minimize the stress for the children, and not only resolve the immediate crisis, but work to put safeguards in place that work to minimize the root cause of the crisis, so it does not happen again.”

She added, “The caseworkers are in regular contact with the families and are available to answer questions that arise and to refer them to additional community resources. The Yolo Crisis Nursery wraps our client families with love and support.”

Furthermore, she explained how their “amazing trauma-informed caregivers compassionately care for children as their parents, families or guardians work to resolve the crises that brought them to our door. The child receives specialty care in a home-like environment and our talented staff, and therapists (when needed) provide loving care and learning opportunities through our licensed preschool and infant care programs.”

Sleuter was then asked, “What has been the most impactful event from working with The Yolo Crisis Nursery?” She responded, “I’ve been the Chief Executive Officer at the Nursery for 14 years. The most impactful part of my role is seeing first-hand the growth and stability that families are capable of achieving in a short time. When a family leaves the Nursery, we personally check in with them at 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. During this time, we see families heal and make life changes that are the foundation for a stable and thriving family such as permanent housing, stable employment, and a healthy, safe environment for their child. It doesn’t get better than that.”

The Nursery has changed the lives of many, and when asked what she would say to someone experiencing domestic violence at home, or is in crisis and needs assistance providing for their children. 

She said, “Even under the best of circumstances, we understand parenting is hard. It takes an incredible act of love for your child to ask for help. The Yolo Crisis Nursery is a safe and hopeful place. We specialize in ensuring client’s safety and privacy, while also connecting parents and children with additional services. We can literally help them change their lives. 99 percent of the respite care families we serve do NOT enter child protective services.”

Moreover, Sleuter recalled how the Nursery helped change the life of a domestic violence survivor. She said, “​The anonymous survivor was escaping domestic violence and came to the Nursery in early 2020. In her words, ‘I don’t know what I would have done without the Crisis Nursery. My client navigator helped me map out a plan for my life. I returned to school to complete my Certified Nurse Assistant Program while the Nursery cared for my two boys. My boys thrived at the Nursery, staff helped them potty train and reach age-appropriate developmental milestones. I finished my nursing program, got a job and I am continuing my education to become an LVN. I am living proof of the enormous impact the Nursery has on a family in crisis.’”

Additionally, Sleuter said that although every family is working to solve a different crisis, they “help families resolve issues such as domestic violence, homelessness, unemployment, or drug addiction. As they reach milestones in the program the resounding phrase we hear is ‘I could not have done this without you.’”

Sleuter concluded by saying that anyone and everyone can contribute to the Yolo Crisis Nursery, and lend a helping hand to those in need of assistance. She said, “there are several ways to help the Yolo Crisis Nursery. We can always use clothes, wipes, diapers, and formula. We also accept gently used children’s items. [The public] could help raise awareness and funds to support the Yolo Crisis Nursery by joining the Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery, and attending our annual Barn Dance in October and Crab Feed in March. Most importantly a financial donation to the Nursery enables us to continue to serve Yolo County’s most vulnerable children.”

Iliana Magana is a third-year transfer student at UC Davis, double majoring in Communications and Political Science. She is from Huntington Park, California

It has been over 10 months since the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in Yolo County. In that time, much has been asked of all of us, from flexibility, bravery and resilience to fortitude, patience and austerity. At Yolo Crisis Nursery, we have also seen firsthand the even greater impact this time of uncertainty, grief and upheaval has had on our community’s most vulnerable young children and families.

Yet, today, even as we are called on to address worrying increases in domestic violence, homelessness, and mental health emergencies, it is not difficult to conjure a deep sense of gratitude, which comes from knowing that we at the Nursery are not meeting these challenges alone.

Recently, a former Yolo Crisis Nursery parent took the time to share this note: “We need caring and compassionate people more than anything, especially now. You are front line workers not just in this pandemic, but always, for every crisis. As a family who benefited directly from your compassionate work, and also just as fellow caring humans, we are forever grateful for and inspired by the strength, dedication, kindness, proficiency and understanding with which you provide crucial services to our community.”

I couldn’t agree more. Today, I am grateful for our staff at the nursery who have never wavered in their commitment to our mission. The work of protecting children from abuse and neglect requires building and maintaining supportive, trusting and empowering relationships with families. Every day our staff continues tirelessly to innovate and adapt to changing safety protocols, never losing sight of the importance of staying connected with the people we serve.

I am grateful for our Board of Directors and volunteers who have rallied in so many ways to guide and support the nursery through this unprecedented time. Their steadfast contributions of time, talent, and resources make it possible for us to respond nimbly to the evolving needs of vulnerable children and families.

I am grateful for our fellow nonprofits and service providers working diligently to collaborate in the best interest of children and families during a time of greatly increased need and decreased resources.

Many of the families we serve are essential workers facing health and safety hazards they never anticipated, while coping with serious hardships and childcare challenges as they struggle to make ends meet each month. I am grateful the Nursery can be a resource for families who contribute so much to our community.

Whether it is the gift of a warm coat, a care package of formula and diapers, or a safe stay for a child while a parent addresses hardship — we see and hear the gratitude and relief when a family in crisis understands that they are not alone.

In addition to gratitude, I look ahead to 2021 with a sense of hope. Just today, I learned that a single father, Frank, who came to us months ago on the brink of homelessness, has secured a job promotion and stable housing where he can safely raise his young son with autism. With the support of the Nursery and our collaborators, Frank can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. Stories like Frank’s and so many others help me see that light too.

As this challenging year comes to a close, and we look to 2021 with hope for health, happiness, and a return to some version of normal, I invite you to join us with an end of year gift to the Yolo Crisis Nursery to ensure that families, like Frank’s, see and feel the hope of the new year. To donate or learn more about the Yolo Crisis Nursery, please visit our website www.yolocrisisnursery.org.

— This article written by Heather Sleuter, executive director of the Yolo Crisis Nursery, originally appeared in the Davis Enterprise on December 27, 2020

The Yolo Crisis Nursery began serving children ages birth to five years old and their families in 2001. Since then, the Nursery has continuously provided early intervention services in a safe environment to nurture healthy and resilient children, strengthen parents and preserve families.

From 2001 until early 2014, the nursery operated under a parent nonprofit agency. Yolo Crisis Nursery executive director Heather Sleuter recalls receiving the news that the nursery would close in 30 days and our parent agency would leave Yolo County. “We had just bundled up the last of 12 children to leave for the day with parents and guardians. Two children would spend the night with our staff as their parents got immediate help. I thought, what will happen to these children — and all the children who need the nursery’s care — if we close?”

The departure of our host agency from Yolo County in 2014 created a crisis. The nursery was facing closure. A group of volunteers who had been formed years earlier for fundraising assistance to the Nursery — The Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery — immediately began to search for a licensed host agency to take over the Yolo Crisis Nursery operations. For a variety of reasons, one was not found.

With the 30 days’ notice of closure, the majority of grants that had funded the nursery were terminated. There was no more agency, no more money and no more time. The clock was ticking. And then, the angels arrived and brought with them the miracles that are now legendary.

Heidy Kellison, president of the Friends, boldly negotiated a continuation of the Yolo Crisis Nursery operations with private funding while a nonprofit corporation was formed, licensed and became a public 501(c)(3) charity. The Yolo Crisis Nursery now had 90 days to remain open while securing funding for the interim operation of the nursery and a full fiscal year of funding for operations totaling almost $400,000. Heidy returned to Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery with a three-month clock, determination and enduring hope.  She is my hero.

Yolo Crisis Nursery Inc., was formed with a board of directors consisting of Becky Heard, as chair, Kellison, Liz Malinoff, Trish Bosco and myself. On behalf of the new corporation, I submitted an application for 501 (c) (3) status, and Heather Sleuter, completed all of the licensing applications. Yolo County Children’s Alliance acted as the interim public charity on behalf of the new corporation.

With the 90 days quickly racing by, the newly formed board immediately hired Cam Stoufer to help replace the terminated grants with new funding streams. Cam’s efforts yielded immediate dividends and continued throughout her six years of service. While Cam applied for grant funding, the newly formed Board and the Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery were feverishly fundraising to save the nursery.

The Yolo Crisis Nursery is open today because of the generosity of Yolo County citizens, businesses and organizations, as well as our families and friends nationwide. All are connected by our shared belief that every child deserves to grow up in a safe, loving, and stable home. The redemption story of these times is for a different forum than this article, but the angles ranged from bakes sales to large monetary donations.

In those 90 days, contributions from family and friends, and the Yolo community of individuals, clubs, churches, and others, as well as grants, totaled $364,000! At the risk of forgetting someone, I will not attempt to enumerate the many contributors of time, talent and treasure. But, for the sake of deservedness, I must give credit to Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza for his advocacy during this perilous time.  His commitment and passion for the mission and community need of the Yolo Crisis Nursery became the cornerstone of our successful fundraising efforts.

In 2015, the newly licensed, nonprofit corporation Yolo Crisis Nursery Inc. began standalone activity. Sleuter was named executive director and has continued in that capacity to this day. In our first full year as an independent nonprofit, we served 129 children. Last year, we served 692 children. We serve at-risk children ages birth to 5 years old and their families as an upstream investment in the future of our community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to the nursery. The Yolo Crisis Nursery is an essential service and has remained open during the stay-at-home orders. “Over six months into the pandemic, we have more families than ever in crisis. We are seeing increases in clients experiencing domestic violence, homelessness, and postpartum depression,” Sleuter said. “In addition, we are helping essential workers with young children and distributing record numbers of care packages in our community. The need has never been greater.”

As it has since 2001, the Nursery has remained open, serving a population under great stress. These families are hit hardest by the pandemic and are struggling with homelessness, unemployment, isolation, and uncertainty. I invite you to support the Nursery and the children they serve with your time, talents, or a donation. To learn more please visit www.yolocrisisnursery.org. We are community.

This article was written by Vic Bucher and originally appeared in the Davis Enterprise on Sunday, October 25, 2020.

Heidy Kellison and Yolo Crisis Nursery Supporters in 2014

Heidy Kellison with Yolo Crisis Nursery supporters at a 2014 Yolo County Board of Supervisors Meeting.

I remember so well the day we got the news. It was in April, five years ago. The Yolo Crisis Nursery would close in 30 days. We had just bundled up the last of 12 children to leave for the day with parents and guardians who were working hard to create stable homes for their families. Two children would spend the night with our staff as their parents got immediate help to resolve the crises in their lives. I thought, “What will happen to these children — and all the children who need the nursery’s care — if we close?”

With the departure of our host agency from Yolo County in 2014, Yolo Crisis Nursery’s closure was looming, and a safe future for these young, vulnerable children was in jeopardy.

It took a village, but the nursery remained open, and in December we celebrate our fifth anniversary of incorporation as an independent nonprofit organization, Yolo Crisis Nursery, Inc. Looking back, it took all of us — everyone who donated or volunteered to hold babies, bought a crab feed ticket, built or painted a nursery playground structure or supported the nursery in any way. This milestone anniversary would not have been possible also without the support of the Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery and our community of caring businesses, foundations, service organizations, and the partnership with Yolo County.

In this season of thankfulness, we are so grateful for the work of local visionaries — Heidy Kellison and Becky Heard — whose leadership, determination, and generosity kept the nursery open to welcome children and families with a place of respite and service 24/7/365.

We sincerely thank the individuals, who served on the work group to create our nonprofit organization and to those on our inaugural Board of Directors. We are forever indebted to Karen Adams, Tricia Bosco, Vic Bucher, JD Denton, Jane Eadie, Becky Heard, Heidy Kellison, Liz Malinoff, Sherry Richter, Jamima Wolk and Judy Wolf. The gifts of your time and talents are still felt today.

We are also very grateful for the work of Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza and Gina Daleiden, whose early commitment to the nursery created a partnership with the county that has made a critical difference in improving the health and well-being of Yolo County’s children and families.

Since 2001, more than 5,000 children have been kept safe and their families healthy and whole, thanks to the nursery’s trauma-informed care and wraparound services for families in crisis. Our programs are further validated by the latest study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which confirms that what happens to you in childhood can affect your health for a lifetime. CDC data shows a link between childhood trauma and disease later in life, making prevention — the very mission of the Yolo Crisis Nursery — critical.

Every day we know the nursery is protecting our community’s young from the effects of trauma. Last year, the 474 children and 98% of the families we served did not enter the child welfare system.

As Executive Director, I often get asked, “How can you hold up given what you see every day?” Daily, I do see heartbreaking tears and sadness, fear and families struggling with homelessness, domestic violence, unemployment, health challenges, and more, all without a support system.

Yet I also see the shy grin of a 2-year old feeling safe enough to say her first words, the giggles of a 4-year-old recognizing the characters of what has become his first favorite storybook, and the tearful relief of the mother or father who knows their children are safe at last while they begin their recovery from trauma. With our help, those parents will become strong enough to look for a new home, a new job, and a new life for their families. I see it every single day.

Our generous community — our village — is the reason we are here today celebrating our fifth anniversary, and with your continued support we will be here for many more. There are numerous opportunities to help our children and families. Dec. 3 is Giving Tuesday, a global giving movement that follows Thanksgiving and the widely recognized holiday shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Join us and join the movement on Dec. 3 by making a donation to the Yolo Crisis Nursery at www.yolocrisisnursery.org . If you would prefer to help a specific child or family this holiday with essential items and a holiday gift, please email me at hsleuter@yolocrisisnursery.org to adopt a child or family for the holidays, or stop by Third St. Jewelers in Davis or Minute Man Jewelry and Watch Repair at Arden Fair Mall to select an ornament from their giving trees.

Together with all who have given and all who will give to the nursery, we celebrate our anniversary with you — our village — and extend a deeply heartfelt “thank you.”

To make a gift or for more information, visit the Yolo Crisis Nursery website: www.yolocrisisnursery.org or reach us by mail: 1107 Kennedy Place, Suite 5, Davis, CA 95616. If you or someone you know needs our services, please call: 530-758-6680.

This article was written by Heather Sleuter the executive director of the Yolo Crisis Nursery and first appeared in the Davis Enterprise on Sunday, November 24, 2019. 

Nearly every time I visit the Yolo Crisis Nursery, I am welcomed by Connie Cordero with a warm smile and an infant in her arms. As our longtime Infant Room Teacher, Connie has a special connection with babies that is like no other. Children instantly trust and feel safe with Connie, earning her the affectionate title of “The Baby Whisperer.”

Connie joined the nursery staff in 2003 with a passion to make a difference for Yolo County’s most vulnerable children — those too young to have their own voice or care for themselves. Her goal, no matter how briefly she cares for them, is to leave a lasting impression with each and every child entrusted to her care. And what a difference Connie has made over the last 16 years! All too frequently, children arrive under extreme duress, but Connie’s peaceful and kind presence immediately eases them and makes them feel safe. The nursery has served over 5,000 children since opening its doors, and Connie has touched the lives of almost all of them. She has been their constant.

“It warms my heart to walk into the infant room to see Connie singing, dancing, and playing dress-up with the babies,” said Heather Sleuter, executive director of the Yolo Crisis Nursery. “Connie’s dedication to our clients is extraordinary and the positive impact her work has had on our community is immeasurable. Connie’s contributions are so extensive — she will be almost impossible to replace.”

Connie’s work transcends her direct care for the children. In addition to serving as the Infant Room teacher, she manages our Care Packages program. Through this program, we collect donated essential baby and child items from the community to provide customized care packages for parents to quickly get them necessities and ensure their children are well-cared for and safe. To learn more about donating items or to request a care package, please visit yolocrisisnursery.org/give/#wish-list or call 530-758-6680.

Connie has also played a critical role in shaping the culture of the Yolo Crisis Nursery. She has been responsible for numerous staff and volunteer trainings and she, herself, is a model for respectful, empowering, and compassionate care for our client families.

“Connie has a serene and kind way about her that is also very powerful. Kids come in having been through some pretty terrible stuff. She is able to calm them and make them feel safe and secure,” said Dr. Dave Nakano, retired pediatrician and Yolo Crisis Nursery volunteer. “If there were a picture next to the definition of mother in the dictionary it would be Connie. She may be the most warmhearted person I have ever had the privilege of knowing.”

Every child and family we serve is different, but each one is in crisis and all are in need of aid, having little or no support systems of their own. With a little help at just the right moment, families can avert crises. Rather than free-falling, they instead turn towards a more promising future. Since opening our doors in 2001, the Yolo Crisis Nursery has a 97% success rate for keeping children out of the child welfare system and Connie has been an integral part of that success.

Connie is set to retire in mid-August and, after a 16-year career helping other families, she plans to spend more time with her own children, her nine (soon to be 10) grandchildren, and first great-grandchild. The Board of Directors, Friends of YCN and the entire nursery staff would like to express our deep admiration and utmost appreciation for the selfless service Connie has given to the children of Yolo County. It is our sincere hope that Connie will continue to be a friend of the Yolo Crisis Nursery and come back to visit every now and then.

The Yolo Crisis Nursery offers voluntary, free, nurturing crisis and respite childcare for ages birth through 5 years, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Equally important are our wrap-around services that help parents resolve the problems that brought them to our door. The nursery strives to preserve families. Families that stay whole become stronger.

If you would like to help a Yolo County family at just the right moment, please consider supporting the nursery by volunteering to hold babies, joining the Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery, helping with a fundraising event like our upcoming Barn Dance on Saturday, Oct. 19, or by making a financial donation. If you would like to dedicate a gift to the Nursery in Connie’s honor, you may do so at www.yolocrisisnursery.org/give.

The Yolo Crisis Nursery could not survive without the generosity of our community, and we are grateful for your support. Thank you on behalf of the children and families we serve.

— This article originally appeared in the Davis Enterprise on Sunday, August 4, 2019, and was written by Jane Eadie, President of the Yolo Crisis Nursery Board of Directors