CONCORD -- On a recent leisurely afternoon, little about Anna LaCourt suggested she was three hours from her biggest job interview in years. The clues? A pinstripe business suit and two-inch heels. Evidence to the contrary? The sand in her shoes and the green chalk smudged on her blazer.
LaCourt sat on a bench as her "princess," 2-year-old Aurora -- named after Sleeping Beauty and the Northern Lights, ran wildly with green chalk in her hand, tracing her fingers on the sidewalk and taking breaks to feed her mother pretend chicken nuggets she had stashed in her pockets.
Job interview or not, playing in the sandbox and riding down a slide with her daughter is a special joy for the single mother, who works full time at the 99 Cents Only Store in Concord.
"When I had her, I think everything just changed," LaCourt said.
The bubbly toddler, LaCourt says, diverted her from the "self-destructive course" she had taken in her teens and early 20s. Though guarded about her past, the 31-year-old said her troubles left her in poverty and did not allow her to raise her oldest daughter, Ashley, who is now 12 and lives with LaCourt's father.
With a low-paying job and no child support from her daughter's fathers, the poverty persists, but LaCourt has found richness in the generosity of those around her, including the Concord Child Care Center, where Aurora spends her weekdays, playing with other children from low-income families.
"This place is a lifesaver," LaCourt said last week, watching Aurora on the playground.
The child care center on Detroit Avenue, which serves 110 families with 144 children from 18 months old to age 6, is one of 30 organizations taking part in the Bay Area News Group's annual Share the Spirit campaign.
Funded by the state Department of Education, the center provides subsidized care for low-income families who live and work in Concord. There is a great demand for free or subsidized day care, said Executive Director Brenda Brown, and her center is no exception. The wait list is so long, they refer to it as an eligibility list. And families sign up shortly after their child is born. Operating since 1972, the center has raised generations of Concord children.
"This is their second home," Brown said. "We try to make it have that feeling and create those memories for them too."
For LaCourt, the center is a blessing. It's a few blocks from her apartment, across the street from the elementary school Aurora will attend, and a short drive from her job.
And on the weekends, LaCourt has Yowsie Mercado, her former co-worker and godmother to Aurora. Mercado, 20, has watched Aurora for free since she was 9 months old. The Mercado family put Aurora on a Christmas wish list last year. The toddler needed a pair of boots. She got six pairs from family, friends and strangers.
"I know it's hard for her being a single mom," Mercado said of Anna. "She does everything for her. She's a very strong person."
Back on the playground at the child care center, LaCourt was anxious for her interview for a financial counselor position. If hired, it would require weeks of training but could be her ticket out of poverty. She said she would make more there part time than she does full time at her current job.
That way, perhaps she could be the one to buy boots for her "princess."
"A normal American dream, I guess," she said.
David DeBolt covers Concord. Contact him at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.
The Share the Spirit campaign, sponsored by this newspaper, benefits nonprofit agencies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. To help, clip the coupon accompanying this story or go to https://volunteer.truist.com/vccc/donate. Readers with questions and corporations interested in making large contributions may contact the Volunteer Center of the East Bay, which administers the fund, at 925-472-5760.