GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — U.S. Army Family Child Care, or FCC, bestowed this year’s Provider of the Year award to Omalia Weatherholt, a beloved member of Bavaria’s Child, Youth and School Services. And it doesn’t take long to understand why.
Omalia Weatherholt is quick to smile and deeply humble, but also undoubtedly professional and fiercely passionate about children. Her house is welcoming — the scent of fresh tamales drifting from the kitchen — and, with a huge section dedicated to children, definitely embodies the nurturing environment many parents want for their kids.
Like the Child Development Center, FCC is a program that provides affordable childcare for military families. The providers are installation-certified and licensed specialists, many with degrees or an educational background in early child development.
FCC caretakers complete a lengthy and rigorous certification process at every duty station and meet specific standards regarding personal health, background and child safety. The FCC program particularly caters to military families desiring home-style care, more personalized attention for their child and flexible hours.
Omalia is accredited by the National Association for Family Child Care, has an Associate’s degree in Child Development and has been a FCC child-care provider for over 12 years. Originally from Panama, she is a military spouse, a mother of two boys and fluent in both English and Spanish.
I sat down and spoke with Omalia. Here’s a glimpse into her story.
What initially sparked your interest in this field?
As a military spouse, I know the struggles of a military family. A brand new mom, you don’t want to leave your kid with just anyone. You have to go to work and leave them alone. I know that struggle. Parents need someone they can trust with their kids. That’s the main thing that led me to this path and made me stay on it. Many of the kids I have watched have struggled going from house to house. They opened FCC to give families and Soldiers a safe environment for their kids. It is very regulated. We have inspections all the time. The community here in Bavaria is big, and CDC can’t handle it alone. In the states, it’s a little bit different, because there are so many other private providers and the Soldiers have more options. But when you go overseas — it is what it is. If you want to keep your kids within the military community, you have to go to CYS and ask for care. And that’s where FCC comes in.
Do FCC providers watch infants too?
Care for an infant is very hard to find through the CDC. It’s full all the time. They offer FCC to those parents, and you can interview with a provider. Otherwise they put you on the CDC waiting list until a spot opens. It’s much easier for preschoolers and toddlers to have a slot at the CDC. There, it is four infants to one adult and eight toddlers to one adult. At FCC, the ratio is six kids total, but we can never have more than two infants. Right now, I have three toddlers and three preschoolers. At the CDC, kids go to a center with a bunch of other kids. At FCC, it’s a home environment. It depends on what your kid needs. If your child wants to be social, then the CDC is a good option. But if your child is kind of shy or needs a little bit more attention, then FCC is better.
How do you keep the kids busy?
We do cooking activities, art, drama, Play-Doh. We have toy cars and balls, and we go play outside. All the activities have to be related to the child’s development. We follow a lesson plan every week. It’s important that they learn something every day. The toddlers are really smart kids. I love them. If your child is four years old, we encourage them to start getting ready for preschool or Kindergarten. But we help them prepare and keep them busy. We start learning how to write their name. The other day we learned how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The bread was cut and I have everything ready. We all go to the table and do it together. We’re trying to make lots of things — we’re trying. We make cupcakes, bread. I let them all mix different things. We’ve also made Jell-O. They wanted to drink it right away. The next day I said, “Hey remember the Jell-O we made yesterday? Let’s go check on it!”
What is your favorite part about this job?
I love to help the community. It’s really hard for parents. It was so hard for me to find someone that I knew I could trust my kids with. I want to be able to help the community and be a person parents can trust with their kids. I have one child who has been with me for two years. They PCS in April, and I am PCSing too. He is really special. He started with me when he was 18 months, so he knows everything. “Mrs. Omalia, Ms. Omalia, Ms. Omalia!” That’s what I’m going to miss. But I keep in touch with all the moms. I keep in touch with the moms I met in Virginia, and their kids are already teenagers! It’s so fun to watch them grow.
What are your work hours?
The day can start so early. It all depends on the Soldier. MPs have a crazy schedule. In the states, I had a child come in at 4 a.m. But over here, the earliest I have right now is 5:45 a.m., but most come around 6 or 6:30 a.m. Most of the kids leave around 5 p.m., so it’s an 11-hour day.
What about food?
We provide the food and follow the menu of CYS. The menus are approved every year for the four seasons. We have to follow it. Inspectors come and make sure you are using the right menu. If parent’s want their child to be on a special diet, they have to get it approved by CYS. We are only allowed to buy food from the commissary. That way, if anything happens, we know exactly where the food came from.
What did the FCC certification process entail?
You have to get a lot of background checks. It can take six to eight months before you actually open your house. They check the provider, the spouse and your kids if they are over 16. Now, they also check your medical records. Every time you PCS, you have to go through the background check process again. As soon as you start the background check, you have to go to a week-long class to learn about the garrison, SOPs, and CYS regulations. You also review the basics of child development. They cover CPR, medication administration, child safety and fire rescue. They teach you how to do your paperwork, since FCC providers have to submit paperwork every week. During this time, you also have to wait for inspectors to look at your house. The fire and safety have to inspect the house. The nurse has to come. You have to pass a health exam. Once you are allowed to be a provider, you are inspected regularly. We get visits from the director, and safety and fire department come every year. We have a quarterly inspection from the coordinator. There are only five FCC providers at this garrison right now. I guess it’s because before you can open, you have to go through the long process of inspections and background checks. It’s not an easy process.
Any advice for other FCC providers?
Be patient and flexible. The opening process can take a long time. You also need to have good communication with the parents. I had one duo-military family. It was a crazy schedule. Sometimes he was in the field, sometimes she was in the field. I have also had to watch babies over-night. We call it extended care. That’s for mission-related situations mostly. The longest time I have ever watched a child was for three months.
Who is your role model?
My mom. I love her so much. She is a really strong woman and has such a big heart. She had her first baby at 16 and had to work really, really hard. She was a single mom. Now she is a minister for the church. She’s cared for so many — always getting stuff together for others. I remember growing up, every pay-day, she would set up boxes with rice, beans and other things. We would package them up and take it to other peoples’ houses. We weren’t rich, but she would give to other people.
What is your favorite movie?
Finding Nemo. I can watch over and over again. I have been watching that with my kids forever. We still watch it and laugh so much.
University or life experience, which do you feel best prepares you for life?
People and places — they are what have prepared me for life. Being married to a Soldier — it’s challenging — but it has prepared me. I am so far from my family in Panama, and it has made me stronger. I had to raise my kids by myself, because he’s always out. Meeting all those people, learning about all the traditions, learning English — being a military spouse is the greatest life experience. I really thought I would just live on the countryside of Panama and teach, but no, here I am in Europe. I’ve been able to travel the world.
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
Since I was a teenager, I have wanted to play guitar. So I think I would love to learn how to play. It would be so nice to have an instrument to play with the kids.