You Can’t Live to Depend

When Delphine Brock finishes teaching, she sits for a few moments, alone in silence. “I just need to sit, because it’s so much. It’s overwhelming.” It is a rare but needed pause in her unending relay of meeting the critical and varied needs of her adult students.

For nearly 15 years, Brock, 64, has led a national Child Development Associate (CDA) certification course held at the Kids Hope Alliance. The class is free for local childcare workers and certification helps students earn more money, allowing them the possibility of opening their own childcare business.

It is a raise that is badly needed. Most of Brocks’ students earn between $8.50 and $10 an hour and hardly any receive benefits, such as health insurance or paid leave.

Brock recalls a former student seriously ill with pneumonia. This student was homeless and unable to work for two weeks.  Because she had no health insurance, she was forced to borrow money to see a doctor.

“When she finally came back to class, I said ‘How are you?’ and she burst into tears,” Brock remembers. “And she said, ‘When I got my check, it was two dollars. What am I supposed to do with two dollars?’”

Faced with students’ desperation, Brock does whatever she can to help. She provides food at every class and lets students take home leftovers. Her desk is stocked with feminine products, soap, and shampoo – all free for students. She even takes them shopping for necessities. It all comes out of her paycheck.

More importantly, she creates a safe space for students to open up about their challenges. “I call my class CDA Vegas, because what is shared in here, stays here,” Brock said. “Sometimes a student will start to share something with me, and they’ll stop and ask, ‘This is Vegas, right?’” It is inside this space that Brock has been able to touch the lives of students in need, like Jennifer Simms.

Simms recently opened an in-home daycare, allowing her to care for an adult son who was shot in the head.  Simms says she has yet to receive any government assistance for his acute medical needs.  Much of what she has received has been the result of Brock’s efforts, who has given him a wheelchair and a walker.

“She’s like a mother,” said Simms. “She’s there for me, no matter what time of night or what time of day. All I have to do is call or email or text.”

Over and over, students share similar stories. When student Gwendolyn Simmons was hospitalized with a chronic illness, Brock helped her stay on top of her coursework. “She would call me. She would see to it that I did not miss anything.” When Simmons needed surgery, Brock was there for her, waiting at the hospital the morning of her surgery. “She goes in the trenches for us. She prays for us. We become family to her,” Simmons said.

Brock’s commitment to her students has had a profound impact on their careers. Brandon Backmon, who works as a Family Workshop Facilitator for the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, credits Brock for his success as an educator.

“Mrs. Brock and the CDA class had an outstanding effect on both my career and life. She always reminded us that she was going to do whatever it takes to help us press forward. I teach parenting classes for fathers now, and the CDA class gave me so many valuable teaching tactics that I use today. ”

As much as she provides for her students, Brock’s ultimate goal is for them to become self-reliant. That, she explains, is where the “Plus” part of her course comes in. She weaves into the curriculum important life skills, such as money management. She has every cohort keep a journal of every single item they buy for two weeks to show them where their wages go.

“The best advice I’ve heard is that you can’t live to depend. And when you make minimum wage you almost have to live to depend. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand. I can’t change the minimum wage,” Brock explains.

Nevertheless, Brock has worked real magic for the hundreds (probably thousands) of childcare workers who have come through CDA Plus. Undoubtedly, every student she teaches leaves her course with the assurance that, when her few minutes of repose are up, Brock will resume her tireless relay of advocacy and service on their behalf.