If the idiom, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” is correct, our hearts are experiencing extraordinary heights of fondness. Especially towards teachers and childcare workers, since schools and daycares were closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While it appears that our community will continue to grow that appreciation in the months to come, the Boys and Girls Club has recently begun to alleviate the overwhelming need for childcare in Santa Cruz County. Across the county, clubhouses have begun to accept the children of essential workers for a full day program (8 a.m.-6 p.m.) from Monday through Friday.
According to Maia Yates, Director of Program Services for the Boys and Girls Club, three clubhouses are operating in the county, “Live Oak will open May 11th for the Essential Worker Childcare Program, the Downtown Clubhouse has been open for a few weeks, and Scotts Valley (the Aliberti Clubhouse) opened 2 weeks ago.” So far, our local clubhouse in Scotts Valley, can only serve 12 kids while maintaining safe practices. Yates is waiting, “to see when Gavin Newsom will move to Stage 2, which will potentially allow for another 12 children to get off our waiting list.”
With only 12 spots, demand has been much higher than availability. The Club had to speedily invent a way to choose which children it would take in. Katee Freeman, the Unit Director for the Downtown Clubhouse, “worked with [the staff of the Aliberti Clubhouse] to develop a program, to say yes and no to people. We ask for documentation on what they do for work and for proof of employment. Then, they receive a registration packet and an extremely thorough liability form.”
These new registration protocols are only the tip of the iceberg for the Boys and Girls Club. Yates’ number one concern is safety. “We’re starting really small because we don’t want to overwhelm anyone.” The CDC and Santa Cruz County Health Agency have helped set all safety guidelines for the clubhouse, “Every day the parents pull up and everyone gets a Health Questionnaire Intake Form, including the staff and parents. We’ve completely changed the protocols to sign in and out, we only have small group activities, everyone wears gloves and masks, and are constantly cleaning… These families are trusting us and we want to provide peace of mind that they can count on us keeping their kids safe.” A parent gushed about the program, “I am an essential health care worker, mother, provider and freshly minted teacher. However, it turns out that doing it all can become overwhelming and after 6 weeks of doing it all, I am tired… Boys and Girls Club is a wonderful place that keeps us happy, healthy, and safe. Thank you for being there.”
Yates’ goal for their childcare extends far beyond safety measures, “Child care is so much more than babysitting. Keeping a child safe is great, but it’s really about social and emotional development, that’s our main focus. In doing so, we’re keeping our kids mentally safe, by helping them understand the concept of what’s going on without overwhelming them. Masks are really intense for a six-year old.” To achieve those childcare goals, the club has “been meeting once a week online with all 45 staff members to provide training on emotional and social stabilization.”
All of the Boys and Girls Club staff has been “stepping up,” to provide for their kids, whether they’re on the Executive Board and working to ensure that all staff members remain employed, or working directly with the kids. Yates is so thankful and proud of her “dedicated staff… that have been doing a fantastic job. Our staff to child ratio is really small and each staff member has been working with the same group of children each day, to give them continuity of mentorship and simultaneously prevent cross contamination.” On top of providing for the kids “emotional and social development,” members have been providing meals to all children and have created an “entire virtual club life. Kids can go onto our YouTube Channel for weekly exercises, activities, tutoring, and fun specialty classes, including drumming, singing, and other activities.” One parent reported, “We cannot thank you enough for the Dungeons and Dragons zoom. Sebi is so happy right now and so are we. That was fantastic and so helpful for our family.”
On top of rethinking the school year, the Boys and Girls Club have big plans for the summer. According to the SV Unit Director, “Fun is our goal for this summer, if we get to have one. Kids have had entire lives uprooted, and finding the time and the availability to have fun, was already tricky for some families, without the crisis. When we can open up, we want to give them the best summer we can.” A few months ago, the Press Banner shared about a grant from Mari Rossi, for the Aliberti Clubhouse to gain a portable classroom. The timing for a new addition of space “couldn’t be more perfect and is very much still happening. The portable will give us another location to run our educational and fun summer, in air conditioning and with more kids!”
Ultimately, Yates is ecstatic to continue serving our community. “It’s been really great, to provide whatever it takes for youth families and communities, to be able to thrive during this time. We’ve done a wonderful job and we’re going to continue doing so. We owe it to our community... We’re going to have to start supporting each other more and more to get out of this and I know we can do it! We’ve done it before.”
To learn more about the Boys and Girls Club’s emergency essential childcare check out http://boysandgirlsclub.info/essential-worker-childcare/. You can hear about their day to day operations on their blog, at http://boysandgirlsclub.info/about-us/news/ . If you’d like to donate to the Clubhouse visit: https://www.flipcause.com/secure/cause_pdetails/NzAzMDc=. TOGO’s is also supporting the Clubhouse this May. You can contribute here: http://boysandgirlsclub.info/events/togos-for-kids/ .