Brittanie Newbold, a patient services manager at Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center, has one child of her own and also cares for her brother’s four children.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, the children, who range in age from 5 to 12, attended elementary school in Spotsylvania and had an in-home nanny to provide before- and after-school care. But when schools closed and social distancing measures were put in place, the nanny no longer felt comfortable coming to Newbold’s house, leaving her in a difficult position.
“My mother tries to provide care for [the kids] when she can, but she’s also in a difficult position, so ...,” Newbold said.
Then she learned last week about a program child care program offered by the Rappahannock Area YMCA for health care workers and first responders in the region. She signed the five children up and said it’s been “a huge relief.”
“As an essential employee, [the Y is] allowing me to serve others without worrying about my children,” she said. “Their staff is providing a fun and safe environment for our kids.
“During this time, the support of our community allows me to continue to provide excellent care for others in need. I’m extremely grateful for the YMCA and our community coming together to help support us.”
The YMCA went a step further last week with a fundraising drive with a goal of raising $100,000 to cover the cost of the program so it could be free to the parents. Before, they were paying $25 per day per child.
Michael Turner, a local businessman and soon-to-be member of the Rappahannock Area YMCA’s board of directors, sent an email last week asking the local business community to join him in donating to the Operation First Responder program.
In just three hours after the email was sent last Wednesday, the business community donated $33,000 to the campaign. By last Thursday evening, the goal of $100,000 had been reached.
Turner said he and YMCA Chief Executive Officer Barney Reiley agreed that with those workers putting their lives at risk every day for the community, “the least we could do is provide child care at no cost.”
“The friends of the Y and local business leaders overwhelmingly contributed within 48 hours not only the necessary funding for the Y to provide free childcare to these critically important workers in our community, but also to refund any money collected to date,” Turner said.
The Y began offering emergency child care at its Stafford and Spotsylvania branches before Easter and expanded to Hugh Mercer, Parkside and Stafford elementary schools this week. As defined by Gov. Ralph Northam, essential workers include public health employees, criminal justice personnel, shelter employees, utility and sanitation workers, essential transportation employees, child care providers and custodial and kitchen workers, as well as health care workers and first responders.
Reiley said each location can care for up to 100 children in grades K–5.
“The Y is trying to step up and meet its obligations to the community in times of duress,” Reiley said. “These people are on the front lines every day of the year and we are honored to able to help them.”
With all Virginia schools closed for the rest of the academic year, paying for child care has been a new challenge for many families.
A quarter of the 1,900 children who attend the Y’s regular child care programs receive financial assistance, Reiley said.
The emergency childcare program is also more expensive for the Y to operate than the regular program because of the social distancing measures necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For instance, children cannot share art supplies because of the risk of transmitting the virus, so staff need to purchase enough for each child to have his or her own. There is also the cost of cleaning and disinfecting supplies and other necessary items.
Reiley said it is logistically challenging to maintain social distancing measures in a daycare setting.
“We have Xs taped all over the building so the children are remaining 6 to 10 feet apart,” he said. “It’s not easy.”
Reiley said the program is currently offering enrichment activities and may begin to gather lesson plans for different grade levels from the local school divisions.
He hopes it can expand into even more sites in the coming weeks.
“Once we get this of the ground, we’ll expand,” he said. “We’ve been fielding quite a few calls.”
Philip King, president of the Y’s board of directors, said he is proud that the organization is able to offer this service.
“The YMCA is so appreciative of all those who have contributed to our emergency child care fund and more importantly, to Mike Turner and Hunter Morin for leading the charge with this initiative,” he said. “The Y family is thrilled to be able to offer this service to the much deserved first responders and their families. This community continues to amaze me with its outpouring of support to those in need.”