To help working parents, workplace has free on-site tutoring for kids

Smith looks forward to driving to and from work with Delphine and Brody, the fourth graders she’s raising with her boyfriend, and seeing them during lunch. Mainly, though, she’s grateful for the opportunity.

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Around 125 rescued animals currently live at Helen Woodward Animal Center, like this donkey named Daisy.Helen Woodward Animal Center

“I’m excited that they’re going to get to be around other kids in a safe, CDC-compliant manner, and I believe they’re going to be having some fun animal encounters, so that’s wonderful,” she said. “This is such a blessing for them academically and for their emotional well-being. It really is.”

Mike Arms, president and CEO of Helen Woodward Animal Center, decided to create the program when he saw tears on the faces of his team of 170 employees right after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that virtually all school campuses would be closed in the fall. Arms didn’t want them to have to choose between their jobs and their kids.

“What better way to help them than to let the children come here with them and have teachers here to help them with their online learning? We work together as a family, so let’s take care of our family,” he told TODAY.

When California locked down in response to the coronavirus outbreak, staff at Helen Woodward Animal Center rose to the challenge and found ways to keep helping animals and the San Diego County community.Helen Woodward Animal Center

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Helen Woodward Animal Center, founded in 1972 in Rancho Santa Fe, California, just north of San Diego, rescues and re-homes animals, offers educational and therapeutic programs for people, and operates a veterinary hospital with a mobile clinic to serve pets of the homeless .

Arms was impressed by the dedication of his team during the onset of the pandemic.

“My staff was not going to turn their back on animals, so they came in,” he said. “We never closed one day because the animals needed us. I couldn’t ask for better people.”

The educational assistance program is available to any of the center’s employees, whether they work full time, part time or on call. So far, 14 children have enrolled. They’ll attend school in five specially built classrooms, with students and teachers physically distanced and following local, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols.

Each desk will be surrounded on three sides by plexiglass so students won’t have to wear masks except in hallways, bathrooms and other common areas.