Headlines about young children being left alone while
their parents clocked in for
their fast-food shift or went
for a job interview have outraged the public. But these cases of “child neglect”
can obscure the underlying reality that confounds
low-income families trying to get ahead every day: the
lack of a;ordable child care.
Rosemary Tran Lauer knows the story by heart
and works to ease the hardship parents face by providing grants for high-quality child care and educational services for preschool children. In 1994, she
started the Devotion to Children organization in her
basement because she understood what it’s like to
live in poverty while raising young children.
Tran Lauer fled from Vietnam to Guam in 1975
with her 3-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter.
After seeing her interviewed by reporters, an international rescue committee decided to sponsor her immigration to the United States. In Washington, D.C.,
she lived in a rundown e;ciency apartment, working
three jobs to make ends meet. She left her children
with neighbors, who were virtual strangers, because
she had no other option.
“It was brutal. But if someone is saying they’re
willing to take care of your kids, you do whatever you
can,” says Tran Lauer.
Even working 16-hour days, Tran Lauer was barely surviving. But she learned English and eventually
moved to Virginia, attending school to become a hairdresser. Later, she opened a successful salon before
getting into real estate in 2001. Her family grew to include a new husband and seven children.
Thirty-five years after Tran Lauer’s struggles, the
problem of child care accessibility persists. In Fairfax
County, Va., the average cost for infants in child care
centers was about $16,000, more than the entire
yearly earnings of a full-time minimum wage earner
in the state. Now in its 20th year, DTC brings in about
$200,000 annually, largely through three events: a
Mother’s Day run that draws more than 1,100 partici-
pants, a poker night, and the signature “Red, Heart &
Soul” dinner gala.
The nonprofit has five main partnerships with child
care organizations, which help distribute grants to day
care sites, preschools, literacy programs, o;-hour child
care facilities, and summer programs. Since 2006,
Tran Lauer estimates, DTC’s grants have helped more
than 3,000 children. In 2007, DTC started partnering
with Cornerstones, an organization that advocates
for those in need of a;ordable housing, child care, and
other services, and provides funding for evening child
care services to low-income and homeless families.
“Without this child care opportunity, parents
wouldn’t be able to work or attend training to support
their families,” says Cornerstones’ Jody Tompros.
She recounts the story of “Tessa,” who was tra;cked
from Central America when she was 14. Tessa now
lives in one of Cornerstones’ 52 a;ordable housing
units with her six daughters. She had been working at
a dry cleaner and was accessing a county child care
subsidy, but then she lost her job and the day care
funding. DTC’s helped cover two weeks of child care
so that Tessa could take an employment readiness
course. Tessa now works as a house cleaner while her
children are in school and is pursuing her GED.
“We need universal child care just as we have pub-
lic school,” Tran Lauer says. “Let’s build preschools
now so we don’t have to build prisons later. That is my
hope and prayer.”
BY ERICA CHRISTOFFER
Child Care Gap When she immigrated to the United States in the 1970s,
Rosemary Tran Lauer
struggled to pay for child care.
Today, she’s helping others
break the cycle of poverty.
ROSEMARY TRAN LAUER LONG & FOSTER | VIENNA, VIRGINIA
Contact Tran Lauer at email@example.com. Learn more at devotiontochildren.org.