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Recognizing unsung Squamish heroes of the pandemic

The Chief catches up with a daycare worker and security guard.

We have all had to learn and adapt and change at work this past year due to the pandemic.

Many of us have worked from home for months now, which has its own challenges.

Of course, COVID-19  has been especially fraught for those on the medical front lines who face the virus and its variants day-in-and-day-out.

Emergency responders who are working these days deserve additional commendation for the extra stress that’s tacked onto their already-stressful life and death jobs.

So, kudos to all the doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and paramedics for all they do for us. 

But it is also important to recognize others who have been in harm’s way during this pandemic but who never got a 7 p.m. cheer for their efforts.  Many — such as teachers, grocery clerks, pharmacists, RMTs, optometrists and the like  — are toiling on everyday front lines, keeping calm and collected through it all, and navigating new responsibilities ranging from enforcing protocols to tackling additional cleaning.

[However, drawing much-deserved attention to these extraordinary efforts doesn’t necessarily come as easily as one might think. One business declined to participate in this story because of the fear of highlighting its employees to a COVID-fatigued public.]

The Chief caught up with a daycare worker and security guard to highlight the work they have continued to do to serve the community during the pandemic.

Lauren McCann – early childhood educator, Fresh Ayre Daycare

One essential service where workers are going the extra mile is taking care of children.

Lauren McCann has been central to Fresh Ayre Day Care in Brackendale since it first opened its doors five years ago.

McCann, who worked in childcare in the U.K. before coming to Canada, said while there were naturally some additional precautions to take at the daycare when the pandemic started bearing down in town last spring, it wasn’t overly cumbersome to add new protocols to the care they were already taking.

“As a program at Fresh Ayre, we really pride ourselves on maintaining the highest levels of cleanliness and the aesthetics of our environment that we offer are really important to us,” she said. 

The fact the daycare prides itself on a lot of outdoor programming came in handy. 

“It’s the most amazing environment,” she said of the outdoor program. “Having the ability to be outside in the fresh air with the children in the forest is phenomenal. It really provides us with a beautiful environment to be in.”

In addition to the physical effects of COVID-19, it’s paramount to recognize the mental toll, especially on children who are just starting to make sense of the world at a time when it is particularly topsy-turvy.

McCann recalled noticing some nervousness and fear in the dozen children she worked with as the world changed, they started seeing people in masks and started hearing new words. It was admittedly “a bit daunting,” but she and the other ECEs have taken care to make the children feel safe and comfortable.

“We started to hear comments, ‘If you’re going to pop my bubble…,’ when their friends came a bit too close to them and concern about marking out two metres, which to a small child, they don’t have too much relative understanding of space and distance,” she said. “As we always do, we listened. We asked questions with honesty. We adopted new language. We found out the answers, mostly through play, and together with the children, we eased our concerns whilst providing our safe and loving environment for them to feel confident in.”

Some new elements have been a little easier to adjust to, she noted.

“The children love playing with water anyway, so the additional hand-washing hasn’t really been a problem for them,” she said. “We just have to remind ourselves to slow down and view everything as a learnable experience.”

On a personal level, she acknowledged the responsibility she feels to the children and their families and the sense of trust that those parents are doing the right thing to keep people like her safe as well.

McCann added that she’s grateful for the Fresh Ayre team as they navigate it together.

 “You really have to rely on your team. I can’t speak enough about the strength of the team that I work within and how much I appreciate them every day,” she said. “Especially during this time, we are really having to work together that we get everything done and provide the best caring, safe environment that we can.

“Without them, I wouldn’t have wanted to be a part of any of it.

Stephanie Sturgess - CEO and security guard, Blue Empire Security

At a time when it’s difficult to latch on to a sense of security, Stephanie Sturgess and her team at Blue Empire Security are looking to help.

While she’s the CEO, Sturgess also takes regular shifts on the beat.

From her time in public, it’s easy to see the marked difference from a year ago. Though she and her employees are not immune to those challenges, Sturgess stressed that it’s their duty to make things that much rosier if possible.

“As it is everywhere, there’s a bit more tension, and people are going through it in their own way, so that’s noticeable,” she said. “We’ve really been aware of that, greeting people and communicating with people in an understanding way, giving a smile and cheering up their day whenever possible.”

Besides taking standard pandemic precautions of using sanitizer and wearing personal protective equipment, Blue Empire guards are taking on COVID-specific responsibilities.

At Service BC, for example, they’re helping to limit the number of people coming into the building and assisting the businesses as they attempt to open and run during these times.

At a time of significant change, Sturgess said she and her employees aim to assist as much as possible. She anecdotally noted that there hasn’t necessarily been a substantial increase in incidents — it’s more that they’re about different things now.

“People are used to just walking in the door, and they’re not used to having services delivered to them in different ways,” she said. “We direct them as much as possible, whether that’s telling them to go on the website, or different things to do, depending on the business, that will solve their problems and make their day a bit easier.”

Sturgess is proud of how everyone on her team has rallied together throughout the pandemic.

“Especially when the pandemic just started, and there were so many uncertainties, my team really pulled their boots up and did what had to be done,” she said. “They have an increased risk of COVID, and doing their job puts them in that position.

“They’re taking that on and soldiering through it.”

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