Raechelle Bowlay loves children and loves helping children and families. She started leading her first support group when she was 8 years old. When she was 6, her sister, Megan, was born with Down syndrome.
“That’s kind of how I got started [helping others],” Bowlay said. “I started leading support groups for children who had siblings who had Down syndrome.”
She added that some children who have siblings with Down syndrome feel jealousy because of the time and attention needed for the child with special needs.
“I didn’t really feel that way toward my sister,” Bowlay said, adding that she does respite for her sister so her parents, Greg and Madonna Bowlay, can get a break.
Bowlay grew up in Thousand Oaks and followed her parents and sister to the area when they moved to Paso Robles in 2006 so Greg could go to work at Soledad Correctional.
When she first moved to the area, she worked at California Men’s Colony while working for the nonprofit Reach A Child. She worked with families affected by incarceration and maintaining communication with their loved ones.
“It was heartbreaking to see those kids [visiting their relatives],” Bowlay said.
She worked for Reach A Child for three years, leaving when she was pregnant with her second son. She has two sons: Bryce, 12 and seventh grader at Atascadero Middle School, and Micah, 8, a second-grader at Monterey Road Elementary School.
After Micah was born, Bowlay said she started an in-home daycare because the cost to put two children in full-time care was staggering. She said the cost for one child ranges from $500 to $1,200 for full-time care.
Bowlay’s daycare had extended hours, staying open until 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. She said she didn’t charge much because she knew how prohibitive paying for childcare could be.
“I loved it,” Bowlay said.
After three years of running her own daycare, she applied for the job she has now with CAPSLO (Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo). She is the Quality Early Learning Manager and the Childcare Planning Council Coordinator.
“I oversee our county’s quality rating improvement system,” Bowlay said. “Locally, we call it ‘quality counts.’ What we do is create a common definition of quality across the childcare programs.”
The childcare programs could be in-home, in-center, private or public.
“In theory, there is no measure of quality in in-home childcare,” she said. “Once we’ve defined quality, we have a way of systematically improving their quality. Every single program is completely individual.”
Bowlay has five coaches on staff who work with about 100 childcare programs around the county. The whole point of creating quality across the board, she said, is because 85 percent of a person’s brain is created from the years of 0 to 5. She said the quality is not related to school-readiness as far as what children know academically, but rather social-emotional readiness attachment, so the children are ready to learn when they get to school.
“That’s why we do what we do,” Bowlay said. “People think it’s just babysitting. It’s not. It’s the whole foundation.”
CAPSLO is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that gets funding from federal, county and city government awards and grants, as well as from private donations. Its mission statement is to address “the causes of poverty, empowering low-income people to achieve self-sufficiency through community-based collaborations and programs.”
CAPSLO’s programs focus on:
- high-quality early childhood education
- accessible, affordable dependent care
- addressing barriers to safe, affordable housing and basic needs
- health services and education
- resource connection and navigation
The nonprofit not only addresses the childcare issue, but also has adult day centers, utility assistance, family support services, health, homeless services and veterans programs.
Bowlay’s department puts on the annual Children’s Day in the Plaza in conjunction with the Month of the Child and Child Abuse Awareness. The 41st annual event will be held on Saturday, April 13 in Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be more than 75 booths that include nonprofits and businesses from around the county. It includes hands-on visual, literary and performing arts activities. More information can be found at SanLuisChildcare.org.
Outside of work, Bowlay is involved in Boy Scouts Troop 251 with her son, Bryce, and is a co-Den leader for Cub Scouts Troop 51 with her son, Micah.
She’s also working with Cole Restorative Therapy, which helps women who are going through divorce and domestic abuse.
“I’m helping [Mary Cole] with her support groups,” Bowlay said, adding that she’s there to be another woman for support.
She has also volunteered as a host family for EF Educational Homestay Programs’ summer program in the North County. Over four years, Bowlay said she hosted 20 students.
“I still keep in contact with almost all of them, except for the Chinese students because the Chinese are harder to keep in touch with [because of government restrictions on the Internet],” she said.
Bowlay has also worked as a program leader and site director for EF. The North County International Program will take place this summer from July 18 to Aug. 13 with various arrival and departure dates. For more information on how to get involved as a host family or program leader, go to EFNorthCounty.org or call the program at 805-975-3844.