Quick collaborative work by Summit Pacific Medical Center, YMCA of Grays Harbor, and the Montesano and Elma school districts, along with a grant from the Grays Harbor Community Foundation, has opened more than 70 free “day camp” slots for children of first responders and medical personnel in the county.
Josh Martin, Summit Pacific CEO, worked with YMCA Executive Director/CEO Franzine Potts and the school districts to secure locations and staff for the service.
“We quickly worked with the YMCA and the school districts,” said Martin. “We need to do what’s right for the first responders who put themselves on the line every day.”
Lack of child care is an issue that has affected businesses and families throughout the state, and during this time, when the ability of health care professionals and first responders to do their jobs is more critical than ever, the last thing those providers need is to have to miss work because, with the schools many rely on for their kids closed, there is no other option for their them other than staying home, said Martin.The YMCA, located in Hoquiam, has been temporarily closed since Monday.
“The YMCA has a lot of staff with the closure that are not going to be employed,” said Potts. “We have been able to really quickly provide staff who are ready to deploy and work. It’s an opportunity to keep employing them while serving the community.”
First responders and health care workers are given priority for the free program, which will be held in two locations: Elma Elementary School and the Grays Harbor Foursquare Church in Central Park. An additional site location will be added in Aberdeen if needed, according to a YMCA statement. The program was slated to start March 18 at the Foursquare Church and March 19 at the Elma Elementary School.
“The church came through for us, and the YMCA is handling all of the staffing structure,” said Potts. “The school districts are handling the meals to provide for the program.” Breakfast and lunch will be served as part of the program.
Potts said the Grays Harbor Community Foundation provided a grant of about $30,000 for the program. Martin said that will maintain the program through about April 3. Between now and then, Martin, Potts and others will continue to look for other funding sources to continue it, be they state, county or other sources. Martin reached out to the County Commissioners at their Monday, March 16, meeting, and was told that legally, at that point in time, the county did not have the authority to fund such a program.
There are 72 slots currently available, divided between the two locations, and care will be provided from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at each. Potts said numbers will be kept below the social distancing threshold set by Gov. Jay Inslee and individual groups of kids will be kept at no larger than 10.
Activities for the kids will include STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math – outdoor recreation, arts and crafts, group games and academic enrichments.
Potts said it’s important to not call the program a “child care” program. It will be run as a day camp, an after-school-type program, a place for children of first responders to be safe and secure and active while their parents are at work.
For the program, first responders and health care workers are defined as paramedics, emergency medical technicians, police officers, firefighters, rescuers, military personnel, and essential municipal and county workers on a case by case basis.
Registration forms are available online at www.ghymca.net. You can also call Sarah Channel at the YMCA directly, 360-581-2330, to find out if you qualify.
“You’ll need a promo code to be able to register, and your employer should have it, or you can call the YMCA” to register, said Potts. She said anyone can try to apply, but priority will be given to first responders and health care workers as described above.
Martin said other counties have been looking at the model created by Summit Pacific, the YMCA and school districts as they also struggle to find day care for their first responders.
“A lot of eyes are watching us across the state. I’ve had a lot of calls from rural communities looking for similar guidance on how to solve the problem,” said Martin, who said the call-out rate (meaning those who are unable to work for some reason) for health care professionals, those who cannot work during this time of pandemic, is as high as 20 percent. “These are caregivers having to call out because they have no child care,” he said. “It’s a significant impact on an already reduced workforce.”
As for longer term funding, Martin said Potts plans to contact cities directly to have health care professionals work through them to find solutions. And Martin plans to lean on the county to “help us find a long-term solution in this time of need” through the end of the school year and beyond.