GREENSBORO, N.C. — A high school senior in Greensboro has created a free, volunteer-based babysitting service to help working parents faced with scheduling and financial nightmares amid the public school shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus outbreak.
Taika Sorjonen, a senior at Northern Guilford High School, told WFMY News 2 she decided to organize the babysitting program after she realized there was a major need in North Carolina.
"My political science professor is a single mom, and I was just thinking about her in this situation," Sorjonen said. "How can I help people like her out, who literally need to work in order to have money? People who work hourly, or have multiple jobs, or just several kids and are a single mom or single dad -- how can I help those people so they can keep on functioning?"
Sorjonen jumped into action, coordinating with more than 20 other high school students and friends. She founded a Facebook group called 'Coronavirus Volunteer Babysitting Service for Working Parents' as an information hub for parents who would like to participate in the free childcare program.
Sorjonen said she also hopes that high school seniors will be able to earn service hours as credit for the babysitting volunteering.
To sign up for the babysitting service, Sorjonen asks parents to either send the Facebook page a message or text her personal number, which is listed on the Facebook page. They will then be directed to fill out an online form to collect contact information and family details. Parents will also be asked to disclose whether they or their family has been in contact with anyone believed to have COVID-19.
Once parents fill out the form, Sorjonen will then connect them with a high school senior who can babysit for the family.
"Right now, I think we are at about 5 (babysitter assignments) in one day, which I think is pretty good. I literally set up the system in maybe an hour when I was bored yesterday morning, and I've had over 100,000 interactions on Facebook since the last time I checked, which is just wild," said Sorjonen.
orjonen said many people have reached out to her, praising the move to help working parents manage their responsibilities in the middle of shutdowns sparked by the novel coronavirus.
But not all the reactions have been positive -- Sorjonen said some people have criticized the movement.
"I was definitely taken a little bit back by some of the almost direct threats I was getting of 'this girl is just kind of trying to spread the coronavirus,' and this isn't going to help at all," said Sorjonen.
Despite the mixed responses, Sorjonen said she hopes the free babysitting service will help send a message of hope and relief.
"I'm a senior, and I'm not even really sure if I will be able to graduate. And I was just thinking, OK, I want to feel like I'm doing something still, that even while we are amidst this huge crisis, and people in our community are freaking out," she said. "I'm still doing something to the best of my ability at 18."