The Eugene YMCA has partnered with local schools to provide free childcare for emergency and essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These childcare programs are being offered throughout Lane County for children between the ages of six weeks and 12 years.
When the governor shut down schools, those at the YMCA knew there was going to be a large need for childcare, according to Brian Steffen, the CEO of Eugene YMCA.
“We knew that making sure that their children had a safe place to go would remove a significant barrier for their parents’ ability to serve our community,” Steffen said, referring to emergency and essential workers. “We have the relationship with the state, the background checks, the curriculum training and the expertise to immediately be providing licensed care.”
The Eugene YMCA has served community childcare needs for 130 years and continues to be Lane county’s largest childcare provider, according to Steffen, serving over 700 children a day at 23 after school sites in three different school districts.
When children are first dropped off at the YMCA, a trained staff member takes their temperature and completes a health assessment of the child. Children will continue to be monitored for any symptoms and will have their temperature taken a second time. Parents are not allowed to enter the building for drop-off or pick-up in order to limit potential exposure.
The children are kept in the same group of 10 at all times, everyday. Children also practice social distancing during activities and meals.
Maria Huether, a senior at the University of Oregon majoring in educational foundations, has been working at the YMCA since last September. She explained how the childcare has changed significantly since the coronavirus.
“It looks a lot different than our typical day at the after school program at the YMCA,” Huether said. “We have much smaller groups than normal. Our typical group has been around 30 to 40 kids, but now we can't have more than 10 kids in a group.”
Huether acknowledged the challenges with the added safety precautions, but explained that they’re “trying to make it as fun as possible” and that you just “have to get a little creative.”
This creativity is seen in new games like “pool noodle tag” and UNO with waterproof cards and rubber gloves.
Despite the circumstances, Steffen said that the YMCA staff will continue to be paid for their work.
“We're working with philanthropists and businesses and organizations and funders to find ways to ensure that the Y receives revenue consistently during this time so that we can continue our robust level of care and service in the community.”
Staff like Huether are grateful for the guaranteed paychecks.
“I got my full paycheck for the month and they're committing to doing that for April as well right now,” Huether said. “So, whether you choose to work or not during this time, you're still getting some income, which is really awesome.”
Huether also acknowledged her appreciation for the staff at the YMCA during a time of such uncertainty.
“I just feel so welcomed once I get there for the day, and everyone's just so appreciative of each other's actions throughout the day. It's just a really great place to be working,” Huether said. “We are all working on a solution together.”
Among those appreciative of the YMCA is Brad Vehafric, a paramedic and supervisor with Mid-Valley ambulance, and his wife, who is a counselor and social work Master's student.
“Things were just stacking up and it was becoming more and more unmanageable, and it was unsustainable,” Vehafric said as they struggled to juggle work with taking care of their four-year-old son.
“When the YMCA reopened again, it was a complete lifesaver for us,” Vehafric said. “We are extraordinarily grateful that the facilities are being made available to not just us, but other front line and social workers, which is absolutely critical because you just can't be an effective parent and do your job effectively, simultaneously.”
Chelsea Holland-Bak, the manager of Oregon Cardiology and PeaceHealth Medical Group cardiothoracic surgery, feels similarly.
“Boy, I can't imagine surviving without the YMCA right now, or all the time for that matter,” Holland-Bak said. “I have relied upon them to help keep my kids safe and sound and occupied for the days when we're at work, and I am so very grateful for the support that we've been provided during the COVID-19 crisis, it's incredible.”
Holland-Bak praised the program and said, “We want the caregivers, and the childcare workers at the YMCA to feel how much we appreciate them. Because we’re all in this together. And we couldn't do it if we weren't.”
Steffen urged those interested in the program to visit the Eugene YMCA’s website for more information.
This story was updated midday Wednesday to correct Vehafric's first name. It is Brad.