Thanks to Jessica Skinner, a local 2-year-old child battling a rare medical condition found himself a village of support.
Skinner has been met with plenty of challenges in 13 years of operating a Mitchell day care. None of those matched welcoming Ryker Earls into her day care a year ago. Earls was diagnosed with an auto immune deficiency syndrome called Wiskott-Aldrich when he was 4 months old. With the support of his new friends and his day care provider, Ryker has been showing signs of steady improvement this past year.
"God told me to welcome him. I always put in extra care for him, because he was so fragile when he came to my day care. Our whole day care has rallied around him and watched him get better," Skinner said. "He can get sick easily, so I have to be aware of that at all times."
From dedicating hours rocking Earls to sleep during nap time to regularly checking his body temperature, Skinner has made sacrifices to provide the type of day care services Earls needs.
Although Skinner has taken on more responsibility with the addition of Earls, she said he's united all 12 of her day care kids and helped build compassionate comradery in her home.
Aaron and Emily Earls know the impact the day care has had on their son's life. Had it not been for Skinner taking on the task of welcoming Earls, Emily and Aaron believe their son's health wouldn't be where it is today.
"With Jessica taking him in, he has been able to make friends and play with other kids. I think part of why he's gotten better is because he is able to play and have fun with friends at a day care," Emily said of her son's health. "We have been so blessed to have Jessica as a day care provider."
When Emily and Aaron moved back to Emily's hometown of Mitchell from Denver just over a year ago, their search for a day care provider came up empty until Skinner stepped to the challenge.
Aaron remembers the day Skinner agreed to watch Ryker and said it was more than a blessing.
"She has went above and beyond her job duties as a day care provider for our son, and she gave Emily and I our life back," Aaron said of Skinner. "It's hard for me to put what she's done for our family into words."
As two parents in their late 20s, Emily and Aaron had aspirations to continue pursuing their career goals when they relocated to Mitchell. But Emily had to put those aspirations on hold due to the lack of a day care provider. All of that changed in early May of 2018 when Emily dropped Ryker off at day care for the first time. Thanks to Skinner, Aaron has been able to continue his career as a car salesman at Vern Eide in Mitchell, while Emily has pursued her dreams at Floor-to-Ceiling.
"At the end of the day, we both want to work and follow our career paths, which wouldn't be possible without Jessica," Aaron said. "Not only has it been a blessing for Emily and I, it's been a bigger blessing for Ryker. He wouldn't have been able to grow and be a kid had it not been for Jessica."
Emily and Aaron drive Ryker for six-month medical checkups at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis.
The 300-mile trips paired with Ryker's previous medical bills have left Emily and Aaron with a financial burden. But Emily and Aaron said their son's health outweighs the cost of medical expenses.
"Medical bills add up quick, but he's our son and we will always fight for him," Emily said. "When the doctor told me there would be a lot of treatments and some transplants for Ryker, I didn't think twice about it. No matter what I had to do for him, I was going to do it."
To ease the financial stresses, Skinner organized a unique fundraising campaign to support the expenses for Ryker's most recent medical checkup on May 5.
She turned to her day care and asked Charlie Bates, a parent of a child Skinner watches, and asked him to make T-shirts for Ryker. As the manager of a local custom apparel business, Bates agreed to print the shirts at no cost. Skinner then sold the T-shirts and donated the proceeds for Ryker's recent medical trip. On May 14, Skinner's entire day care and an army of parents congregated at Patton Young Park, where they donned lavender shirts plastered with bold words "Root for Ryker." After taking a group photo, everyone released a balloon in support of Ryker.
"I wanted to make sure they had enough money for food, a hotel and gas. It has been amazing to see how many community members donated for Ryker's medical checkup. I had parents from kids I used to watch who would knock on my door and donate money," Skinner said. "My heart was so full on the day we met at the park."
It was a moment Emily and Aaron will never forget, as they were left speechless when they saw the volume of community members supporting their son.
While Skinner will eventually say goodbye to Ryker when he begins preschool, she'll always remember how the 2-year-old united her day care through love and support.
"For 9½ hours, these are my babies. I get to raise them up and help them fly," an emotional Skinner said. "I may not be their biological mother, but these are my kids. And Ryker was one of my kids that brought us all together."