Childcare Empowers Single Parents to Pursue Higher Education

When Natalie Holland arrived at College of the Desert, she was a newly single mother who had just left a bad relationship. Worrying about how she and her one-year-old were going to survive, she remembers seeing various COD signs and knew this was an opportunity to build her future. She met with a counselor and who “started connecting me to a variety of resources, most importantly The McCarthy Family Child Development Center (CDC),” she shares. “I was excited that COD offered childcare because I didn’t know how I was going to go to school, work and take care of my baby. Then, all of a sudden, there was this amazing opportunity!”

When her daughter enrolled in childcare at the Center, Natalie had the chance to connect with parents and teachers, which led her to being hired as a student worker.

“It quickly became my home. Once strangers that I was handing my child off to soon became friends and mentors, teaching me parenting methods. This wasn’t daycare, it’s Child Development. People always say, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ and I really found my village by working and meeting other parents. I’ve seen the Center grow exponentially each year. Childcare is not something a lot of families can afford, so the Center is really changing the entire family’s life!”

Children Learn While Parents Earn Their Degree
The childcare center fulfills dual purposes. Firstly, it provides top-tier childcare for low- to middle-income student families through state-funded subsidies. Open year round, the Center has earned contracts with the California Department Childcare Empowers Single Parents to Pursue Higher Education and Build a Brighter Future of Education and the California Department of Social Services, allowing COD students to pursue their education knowing their little ones are receiving quality childcare right here on campus – as long as they maintain their grades.

Secondly, it is a teaching facility for the Early Childhood Education program, which draws about 250 full- and part-time students per semester. This hands-on lab environment trains them in all aspects of child development including assessments, reports, leading a classroom, parent-teacher conferences and understanding children from various backgrounds and situations.

In partnership with the Patrick M. McCarthy Foundation, the COD Foundation subsidizes $50,000 in tuition for 55 children ages 1-5 years per semester, plus an additional 20 children of veteran students.

“We use the outdoors as a classroom, not just as recess,” Program Director Diane Russom notes. “The community garden lets kids participate in growing their own food to take home. In the kitchen garden, seasonal fruits and vegetables become part of the day’s menu. Chef Bruno Romanello prepares and serves up to 360 healthy full meals a day,” all as part of feeding the children a wholesome, nutritious diet, which, in turn, helps them begin to understand the food groups and develop a taste for healthy choices.

Caring for others plays a big part in what the Early Childhood Education students learn along with patience and compassion. “When you take a child in, you have to understand the family – otherwise you won’t understand the child,” adds Russom. “They’re part of a unit, a family culture, that influences their behaviors. Every child is going to have a special need at one time or another. You need to understand and involve that child’s family to help them through it. Every day will be different. But when our students are not sure what to do, we teach them to ask: ‘What’s in the best interest of the child?’ and that answers it immediately.”

Recipient of a Golden Bell Award for inclusivity, the CDC is one of the only centers that welcomes a high percentage of kids with special needs. The Center is also accredited by the National Association for Education, a recognition that less than 10% of all childcare centers, preschools and kindergartens achieve. The COD Foundation is actively fundraising to open a second center at the Indio campus in Fall 2024, which will benefit more underserved families who are pursuing an education while feeding and enriching their children.

Prior to enrolling at COD, Natalie had worked in the medical field. So taking the classes that are required to enter the Nursing program seemed like a natural fit. Through her work at CDC, however, she soon discovered a real passion for finding resources for the families of the little ones she was educating.

“I found independence and strength that I didn’t know I had. The parents and I even created a Parent Advisory Committee for the Center where I served as President and we created an Annual Spring fling and Resource Fair that included games, food and local agencies like WIC and FIND Food Bank for our families to learn about and make important connections.”

Soon, new opportunities arose for her like being chosen as a Student Wellness Ambassador for California Community Colleges’ pilot program to advocate and conduct peer outreach for student mental health and wellness. She also became a member of the Riverside County Local Childcare & Development Planning Council who collaborated and provided advocacy and resources to support quality, affordable and accessible childcare services for children and families through local partnerships. She also initiated the partnership with Borrego Health to originally bring their mobile health clinic to the Center which led the clinic to becoming a resource for the entire campus of COD.

Embracing New Opportunities in Health Sciences
Natalie had hit upon a love for research and for matching people with information they need. When a position for the Administrative Assistant for the Kinesiology and Athletics Department opened up, she realized that where she first connected parents with resources, she now had the opportunity to connect COD athletes from all over the country with key resources. Today, she welcomes the athletes, manages their travel, helps them advocate for themselves and often finds herself in the role as a “second mom” projecting their success at COD.

“I was so sad to leave the Center because my child and I grew up there,” she recalls. “But I realized that this new position was furthering my own personal development and building upon new student and family connections.”

Natalie’s daughter is now 8 years old. She was fortunate to attend the CDC program at COD for four years until she went off to kindergarten. “She was so blessed to grow up in a natural and fun environment where she constantly learned and thrived,” Natalie adds. “I am so grateful for the Center because our lives really blossomed there.”

Nursing and Culinary Arts students perform a kitchen rotation to learn about child nutrition and the kids learn how to plant seeds and harvest from the agriculture and ESL students. Community gardens, farm-to-table meals, an outdoor musical garden and a highly awarded enrichment program make COD’s Child Development learners the luckiest toddlers in the Valley.


Support COD Parents! Donate to please call 760.773.2561 or email

Indio Child Development Center Opens Fall 2024

In addition to the Indio Campus enhancement, COD is also constructing a 17,000sf Child Development Center (CDC) across the street from the campus. The new building will include toddler and preschool classrooms, an outdoor play yard and shade structures, as well as observation and support spaces, conference room, laundry, kitchen and storage required for a modern facility.

We are extremely excited about the Indio Child Development Center, not only because it’s going to be a great opportunity for student parents to have truly affordable high-quality childcare while on campus and studying, but it also provides an outstanding opportunity to train to student teachers under a nationally accredited and fully bilingual Early Childhood program directed by Professor Avalos. We can’t wait to welcome the first class of future teachers and the children who will thrive under their care and instruction.


144 Children served per semester at Palm Desert campus

100 Children expected to be served per semester at Indio campus

WISH LIST The McCarthy Family Development Center

  • Childcare Tuition | $1276 – $2,992 per month, per child depending on age
  • New Security Gate | $6,000
  • Child Development of Education (CDE) Welcome Orientation | $800
  • Refurbish Palm Desert Professional and Children’s CDE Library | $5,500
  • Professional Promotional Materials | $15,000
  • Establish Indio CDE Professional & Children’s Library | $10,200
  • Establish Indio CDE Outdoor Equipment & Tricycles | $18,000

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!