Eleven-year-old Elijah Lane wants to be a pediatrician when he grows up. And sometimes, when his mother, Jazmyne, goes to work or runs to the store in Homewood—a neighborhood in the east end of Pittsburgh—he looks after his younger brother, Emari.
“Emari wants to be just like Elijah,” Jazmyne said. “Elijah’s teaching him everything he learns.”
Since Emari has autism, Jazmyne said she was especially cautious about taking her boys anywhere during the pandemic. She said her mind is more at ease now that Elijah is a certified babysitter, after completing a virtual American Red Cross Babysitting Certification course for local youth.
Offered by the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) Wellness Pavilion at the Community Engagement Center (CEC) in Homewood in partnership with the Homewood Children’s Village, the 4-week course was held virtually over Zoom to provide children ages 11 to 15 in Homewood and the neighboring areas of Larimer, Wilkinsburg, Braddock and McKeesport with the skills to learn how to safely care for little ones in their families and in their communities.
“The course was great because Elijah is learning more about how to help out while making money and learning more responsibility,” Jazmyne said. “It’ll be more comforting for me. Now he knows the do’s and the don’ts.”
Ejilah, who just graduated from the course, said his favorite part was learning all the new things he didn’t know about caring for babies.
“Now, I’m going to look around the house for hazards like cabinets, sockets and bleach,” he said. “Since I want to be a pediatrician, this is giving me background on how to treat the new generation of children. It helps a lot.”
Planting a seed
According to Channing Moreland, director of the SHRS Wellness Pavilion, this was the first time that a certification course of this kind has been offered to youth in Homewood. The program was offered at no cost to families.
“There’s data that shows that eight in 10 parents would pay more for children who are trained and certified to babysit,” said Moreland. “There’s a huge population of young people in Homewood. There are children watching children—whether it be neighbors, siblings or cousins. We thought this would be a good addition to the community.”
Daren Ellerbee, director of the CEC in Homewood, said neighborhood youth have limited opportunities to work closer to home.
“Many children travel to outside communities for employment opportunities,” she said. “As part of the Cradle to Career Collective Impact group in Homewood, providers indicated a community-wide need for child care. Having recalled these conversations, connecting the Homewood Children’s Village to Dr. Moreland and the SHRS Wellness Pavilion to collaborate on virtual youth babysitting certification classes, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, made sense.”
Walter Lewis, director of the Homewood Children’s Village, said partnering with the CEC to offer the course virtually made sense.
“The CEC is a great resource for connecting the community to different initiatives at Pitt. It was a seamless process,” said Lewis. “We hope that as a part of planting the seed for a future career path that some of our children also catch the entrepreneurial spirit.”
To further “plant the seed” for future careers in childcare and entrepreneurship, each participant received a year-long membership to the Homewood-Brushton Business Association, along with a stipend from the Homewood Children’s Village for completing the program.
“Children think they might need to wait until they’re adults or graduates in order to do something. But now, with this certification, they can start a business. They can put their fliers together. They can do it on their phones. They can earn some money babysitting in their community,” said Lewis.
The 10-person class consisted of weekly two-hour sessions over four weeks,
all via Zoom, plus outside homework activities. The course covered topics including caring for infants and children, first aid, child behavior, age appropriate activities, emergency situations, safety, bottle feeding and how-to’s for growing a babysitting business.
Leading the class were two recent Pitt graduates from SHRS’ emergency medicine program, who said the class provided them with a professional development opportunity while helping to shape young leaders in the community. Also helping to facilitate the calls: Brandon Long, current graduate student in Pitt’s counseling program, and Nicole Macio, clinical education coordinator for the Center for Emergency Medicine.
“Any experience I can get in teaching is a benefit for me,” said Rachel Lindsay, who graduated from Pitt in April and plans to apply to physician assistant (PA) programs during her gap year. “It definitely helped with my public speaking, too. But I’m passionate about giving back to other people and passionate about emergency medicine.”
Lindsay’s co-instructor was Sarah Flenders, who also graduated in April and will be starting a PA program this fall. “I’ve taught an EMT class before and found it really rewarding. Initially, this was supposed to be an in-person class, but we figured let’s keep it going over Zoom to keep the children engaged,” she said.
Flenders said a lot of the students in the class had been babysitting their siblings for years, just like Elijah—but now, they have a better handle on first aid and emergency situations. Through her interactions with parents, Flenders said they were grateful for the structure provided by the course.
“The parents were thankful that children had this time set aside once a week for two hours, where they had something to learn and focus on,” said Flenders. “And the students were really engaged. It’s clear they really miss that part of the classroom.”