Community Impact: J.M. Tull Gwinnett Family YMCA and Georgia Mountains YMCA
When a national emergency was declared in the early response to the COVID-19 pandemic, two local YMCA chapters quickly adapted their programs to support frontline and essential employees who needed childcare.
“When we got word (in March) there would be no school, we thought, ‘What are parents going to do for childcare, especially the frontline workers,’” said Rick Little, program director of childcare for Georgia Mountains YMCA in Gainesville.
Just a few days later, the YMCA opened its doors for “crisis childcare” for families of first responders, medical professionals and other essential employees. Without other childcare options available, the YMCA became a valuable resource for parents working on the frontline of the pandemic response.
“It’s in the DNA of the YMCA to do what’s needed to help our communities,” said Jude Dooley, group vice president of YMCA of Metro Atlanta.
Like its sister chapter, the J.M. Tull Gwinnett Family YMCA also quickly launched a childcare program in the early response to the pandemic that served frontline and essential employees. “As we started to cast the idea (of the program), there was an overwhelming response to get involved,” Dooley said.
The Jackson EMC Foundation recently awarded a $15,000 grant to each YMCA chapter for their emergency childcare programs for frontline employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The J.M. Tull Gwinnett Family YMCA also used its grant to provide a hunger relief program for Gwinnett County children and senior citizens affected by the pandemic.
To help healthcare professionals working 12-hour shifts, both YMCA chapters extended the operating hours of their childcare programs. Along with providing meals for children, the chapters also became a source of social interaction and encouragement for children. “Our staff came up with strategies to engage kids in a fun environment,” said Joe Ambler, executive director of J.M. Tull Gwinnett Family YMCA.
Taking into account social distancing, childcare workers at the YMCA also used creative ways to offer games and activities that ensured children stayed at a safe distance from each other, Little said. “We offered the kids a lot of verbal praise and encouragement,” he said.
The Georgia Mountains YMCA provided crisis childcare for 50 children. More than 3,200 children were registered for emergency childcare offered by the YMCA of Metro Atlanta from March to June. Atlanta YMCAs have been providing 6,000 meals a week, including for Gwinnett County families experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic.
“We’re incredibly thankful to the Jackson EMC Foundation for their support of the kids in our programs,” Little said.