YMCAs in the Kansas City metro area are closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. But some of those facilities are now providing childcare services throughout the day to school-aged children of workers who are considered essential.
Greater Kansas City YMCA Executive Director John Mikos said the agency has provided before-and-after-school enrichment programs for a long time. So when a stay-home order was imposed and schools were closed through April 24, he realized the Y could help fill that void.
"With the closure of the schools, it certainly puts a lot of parents in a bind looking for places for their children," Mikos said Tuesday. "Certainly during this time of the stay-at-home order, we still have first responders, health care workers and others that still need child care. So the Y is kind of stepping up with something we’re already doing and changing it up a little bit."
The program is geared to parents who have "essential employment" and must work during the stay-at-home orders issued for the metro area. These include police and firefighters, doctors and nurses, grocery store employees, utility workers and others providing crucial public services. The program serves children from kindergarten through sixth grade.
The services are available at locations throughout the metro area, including Kansas City, Wyandotte County, Parkville, North Kansas City, Riverside and Platte County. Officials are working to add locations in Johnson County as well.
The cost is $150 per week and lunch is provided. Some facilities are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and others from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration details are here.
The program began Monday and is slowly ramping up. It served 17 kids on Tuesday. Spokeswoman Paula Oxler said they look for that number to grow as word gets out. They have capacity for more than 400 kids.
The YMCA says it has safety protocols in place to ensure the health of both the children and staffers. Parents drop children at the curb. Temperatures are checked. Children are kept in small groups, with frequent hygiene breaks.
The YMCA is using some of its own facilities and also working in some closed schools where it regularly provides before-and-after-school activities. At Pathfinder Elementary School in the Platte County School District, the program had eight children on Monday and seven on Tuesday, ages 5 to 10.
They kept busy in the gymnasium with games, science, art and reading activities and physical fitness. YMCA Assistant Site Supervisor Megan Otterman said it went well Tuesday at Pathfinder, although she normally has 120 kids before or after school, so everyone is getting used to a new normal.
Sophia Isais, age 9 and third grader at Pathfinder, said she had a good time Tuesday.
"I think it's going great. I really like the activities we do," she said.
"We do a lot of fun stuff," agreed Perignon Miller, another third grader.
They said they enjoyed the extended holiday from school but missed their friends and teachers and hoped classes wouldn't be halted for the remainder of the school year.
Schools are expected to remain closed for 30 days, and the YMCA hopes to keep filling that need.
"Our plan is to do this for as long as we can," Mikos said.
But he noted that YMCA facilities are closed to members, and revenues are tight.
"We are certainly asking all those that are members of the Y to consider transferring their membership to a charitable donation to the Y," he said.
Mikos said all non-profits are doing what they can during this crisis but they are financially stretched. He said they are asking Congress to consider help for non-profits as well as for businesses as part of any stimulus package.
Lynn Horsley is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.