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YMCA opens emergency child care for health care workers, first responders

The YMCA Buffalo Niagara has opened its doors at six locations to provide care for school-age children of first responders and medical personnel.

The emergency Vacation Club opened Wednesday to help support emergency and health care workers who remain on the job despite a regional school shutdown.

“There’s a big need," said Geoffrey Falkner, YMCA vice president of strategy and marketing. "We need to provide care to the first responders. That’s the only thing that will help.”

Districts are investigating funding sources – including federal and state education grants – to support the program, though the situation is fluid and no official determinations have been made yet, according to Penny Snell, YMCA vice president of program quality and innovation.

"Some districts are paying for the care," Snell said. "Other districts have opted for parents to pay."

The child care program, coordinated by Erie County Deputy County Executive Maria Whyte, will serve children ages 5 to 12. It is an extension of the YMCA's Vacation Club, a service offered when school is not in session.

Informational packets with enrollment forms are being emailed to parents in all districts, Snell said. Health care workers and first responders must provide proof of employment – a copy of their identification badge or a letter from their employer – to sign up for the service.

The usual cost of Vacation Club varies by location with daily rates per child ranging from $35 to $40 for members, and $45 to $60 for non-members, Snell noted. While most locations accept children ages 5 to 12, facilities can accommodate 4-year-olds.

“The YMCA will continue to offer financial assistance to parents," Snell said. “We want to be there to help them. We do have scholarships available.”

With locations ranging in size from 40,000 to 70,000 square feet, activities will be spaced out throughout the buildings. Each activity serves groups of 10 children, Snell said.

“Because we have 50 locations of before- and after-school programs, we have a group of more than 100 childcare workers cleared by the Department of Childcare Services with background checks,” Snell said. “We always operate at a one to 10 ratio."

YMCA branches in Niagara and Erie counties were closed March 16 and 17, with staff members conducting deep cleaning.

Emergency Vacation Club will provide academic enrichment – not education – with activities focusing on STEM learning, literacy, college and career exploration, global studies and arts, Snell said.

“We are not teachers, but we do supervise and assist with homework, so if a child brings the school packet, we can set aside time for that,” Snell said. “There will be lots of physical activity, at least 60 minutes a day. Hopefully within the next week or so we’ll be able to get them swimming as well."

Children are dropped off at the door with access to the interior of the building limited to staff and children, Snell said. Temperature checks will be conducted on children and staff.

A food plan has not been determined, though Snell did say that breakfast and lunch programs will vary.

The program takes place at the following Family YMCAs:  Independent Health, Amherst; Southtowns, West Seneca; William-Emslie; Delaware; Ken-Ton, Kenmore; and Lockport.

School locations are: Maryvale Primary, Cheektowaga; Lewiston-Porter Primary, Youngstown; and W.T. Hoag Education, Angola.

School districts signing up so far include: Amherst, Clarence, Cheektowaga, Sweet Home, Williamsville, Maryvale, Hamburg, Orchard Park, Lancaster, Buffalo, Newfane, Starpoint, Barker, Roy-Hart, Kenmore-Tonawanda, North Tonawanda, Grand Island, Tonawanda City and Lakeshore.

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