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YMCA offers emergency child care for front-line workers desperate for help

More than 25,000 kids had nowhere else to go.
/ Source: TODAY

Across the nation, schools are closed, parents are working from home and families are hunkering down and sheltering in place. But for first responders like Julie Beard, that is not an option.

“I’m a police sergeant and my husband is a grocery store manager,” Sgt. Julie Beard told TODAY Parents. “We are kind of the definition of who has to go to work, and between the two of us we have been working so many hours. I can’t not go to work, and we can’t close the grocery store.”

Beard and her husband, Jess, have two school-age daughters — Katie and Lily — and when the coronavirus pandemic began to shutter their suburban Seattle community, they panicked.

“Trying to parent small children while showing my community that I'm there for them was a struggle I never expected,” Beard said. “All of our normal child care is high-risk. I can't have my mother-in-law watch the kids. All of our backup child care support disappeared instantly. ... We were scrambling.”

Police Sgt. Julie Beard works in a suburb of Seattle and her husband, Jess, is a grocery store manager. They have been relying on the YMCA’s emergency child care for their young daughters, Katie and Lily.Courtesy of Julie L Beard

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Like thousands of other first responders, health care workers, caregivers and other essential employees across the U.S., Beard and her family pounced on the opportunity to enroll their kids in the emergency child care being offered at YMCA locations across the U.S. Since March 18 when the YMCA of the USA announced the provision, more than 550 temporarily shuttered gym spaces have been sanitized and converted into day care centers. To date, they are caring for more than 25,000 children.

“They were so fast in seeing the need and filling it,” Beard said, “The relief (I felt) — I just cannot explain. I am not usually a crier in a crisis. Doing is my go-to, but I cried.”

Police Sgt. Julie Beard was so relieved to have child care for her two daughters that she broke down and cried.Courtesy of Julie Beard

Jorge Perez, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, said YMCA centers began anticipating essential workers' child care needs about two weeks ago. They started creating protocols to care for children who had nowhere else to go while still meeting CDC guidelines.

“As soon as we (closed) our facilities down, it was so we could sanitize them and train our staff,” Perez explained. “As the social distancing rules and shelter in place became part of our normal, we needed a lot more square footage as we started serving kids. ... We needed an entire YMCA building to house a small number of children.”

Perez said that, like other YMCA locations, his facility has rigorous cleaning schedules, requires children’s temperatures to be taken before entering, and maintains a ratio of one staffer to 10 children.

“We’re at a moment in time where we are all impacted,” Perez said. “All of us must lean in.”

A boy has his temperature taken before he enters the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, where child care is being provided for first responders and other essential workers.Courtesy of Jeff Saunders

In Washington state — the first epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States — the YMCA of Greater Seattle is offering child care to medical providers and first responders for free and to other families for $45 a day. Parents with limited incomes can apply for financial aid.

“The vision of the Y is all programs that we offer must be accessible to all people, meaning we always make financial assistance available,” said Loria Yeadon, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Seattle.

The emergency child care has been a godsend for many health care workers who simply cannot stop working. Lily Hahn, an OB-GYN in northern Kentucky, and her husband James Hahn, a pediatrician, have three children: Jameson, 6, and twins Cameron and Nina, 4.

Dr. Lily Hahn and Dr. James Hahn are using the YMCA's child care for medical workers and first responders.Courtesy of Lily Hahn

“Two weeks ago, it didn’t even cross my mind that school would be closing,” Lily Hahn said. “When school closed, I just thought, ‘That’s OK, we have our day care. (Jameson) will just go to day care all day.’”

Then, a week later, the government mandated that the day care had to close as well.

“That was kind of terrifying,” Hahn said. “We have zero family in the area within even a six-hour drive.”

"Two weeks ago, it didn't even cross my mind that school would be closing," said Dr. Lily Hahn, whose three children are pictured here.Courtesy of Lily Hahn

As doctors, the Hahns understood why schools and day cares had to close.

“We’re telling all Americans to stay home and practice social distancing, and here we are, two health care providers taking our kids to a center,” said Lily Hahn, who practices at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. “But it’s selfless what (the YMCA) is doing. Because they’re doing it, we’re able to do our duty.”

It’s a sentiment Sgt. Beard echoes.

“I was raised in a first responder household,” Beard said. “My parents raised me to serve. The only way we will get through this is to keep helping. ...

“If I can go to work and make the world a little bit safer, it makes me feel like I'm helping.”

To learn more about the emergency child care being offered at YMCAs across the country, click here and enter your ZIP code to find a location near you. Prices vary depending on geographic area; parents with limited incomes may apply for financial aid.

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