The heroes standing beside our front-line heroes

Dr. Jill Wei Doherty with her daughter

[4 minute read]

The pandemic has cast a much-deserved spotlight on our front-line heroes: the health care providers and other essential workers who’ve taken huge risks and sacrificed so much. Standing right beside them is another group of heroes: the people who show up every day to care for their children.

A stabilizing force for 30 years

At Early Childhood Directions, a developmental child care program at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., the teachers and other caregivers have been showing up for the littlest members of the Providence family of organizations for more than 30 years. During the pandemic, the bright, active center has been a stabilizing force for families, “providing consistency, care, and community despite the whirlpool of the outside world,” says center director Laura Benavente, M.Ed.

Caring for the littlest family members

For busy parent and physician Jill Wei Doherty, M.D., the program has been “invaluable” as she has struggled to care for rising numbers of patients in her primary care practice, add shifts in the hospital’s urgent care, and raise her growing family. “As a hospital-based daycare center, they understand that the hospital caregivers can’t work unless our families are taken care of, too,” she says. Her daughter, Jane, now age 2-1/2, has attended the program since January 2020. “If it weren’t for them,” she says, “I definitely would not have been able to continue working full time.”

Most importantly, she adds, “Jane loves it. During the pandemic, we’ve been so isolated. Having that socialization at the daycare has been everything.”

At the center, a caregiver offers a little comfort to a tired tyke

Fusing education with play

Socializing is a key part of the program’s focus on fusing education with play, says Benavente. “The goal here is to provide a supportive, positive, uplifting foundation for kids to grow and flourish.”

Education has a significant impact on health

Studies show that education is a leading social determinant of health*, leading to better overall health and well-being. Of all social investments, early childhood education programs have the greatest impact on health. “In Early Childhood Directions, we’ve built a sense of community among our families,” says Benavente. “For children, that community engagement produces long-term benefits, sending a powerful message that they are loved and they belong.” 

Dr. Wei Doherty recently welcomed her second daughter to the family, and soon, she’ll be joining her sister in the Early Childhood Directions family. “They’ve done such a great job keeping the staff and the students as safe and healthy as possible,” says Dr. Wei Doherty, “and Jane has thrived. I don’t know what we would have done without them. We’re just so grateful.”


About Early Childhood Directions

The Early Childhood Directions (ECD) program at Providence Saint John’s Health Center is an NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) developmental child care program for children from infancy through pre-kindergarten. The program gives priority to Providence caregivers, but also serves other Santa Monica residents and offers subsidies to remove financial barriers for lower-income families.


*Social determinants of health include factors like socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment, and social support networks, as well as access to medical care. Addressing social needs is important for improving health and reducing longstanding disparities in health and health care


Health for a Better World story, about serving with our local partners to address the foundations of health.

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About the Author

Community Partnerships is a division that aligns the influence of Providence to create stronger communities, raise awareness, and illuminate a pathway that inspires all to serve. Through partnerships, we work to improve the health of our nation and achieve our goal of Health for a Better World.

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