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The Y in Central Maryland reopens family centers to care for children of workers on front lines of coronavirus fight

The Y in Central Maryland is opening its 11 family centers to provide child care for hundreds of children of first responders and front line health care workers, the organization announced Tuesday.

Beginning Wednesday, the Y will host 700 kids, ages 4 to 12, so their parents can continue their essential jobs. Slots are limited to the children of certain hospital workers and people in emergency services. Child care will be provided from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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Parents who qualify can register at ymaryland.org/emergencypersonnelservices. The centers are not open to the general public.

Nearly all of the Y’s regular programming is closed temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic, including its after-school sites, Head Start classes and swim centers.

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The child care services are being offered in partnership with the state education and health departments. There will be no cost for the service with the state funding some of the expenses and the Y looking to raise money to cover the rest.

John Hoey, president of the Y in Central Maryland, said the nonprofit has the “expertise, the people and facilities” to serve the families of nurses, doctors, police, firefighters and others the community relies on.

“There is no one better equipped to do this,” Hoey said.

Gov. Larry Hogan ordered all nonessential companies to close on Monday, but said day care centers were among the places that could remain open. The governor added that the state “may be taking further action” with regard to day care centers this week, but he did not provide more details.

The state so far has mandated specific child care services continue for the children of emergency workers, an action that has alarmed some day care workers. Some of the workers have signed an online petition to close the centers amid fears the virus will spread and they will not be able to protect themselves or the kids.

Meanwhile, the state’s public schools have been shut down temporarily during the outbreak.

At the Y child care sites, everyone will be screened for fevers before entering the buildings to keep the children and workers safe. Inside, groups will be kept to no more than 10 people in a space. Further precautions will include frequent hand-washing and extra cleaning.

Derryck Fletcher, the Y’s senior vice president of youth development, said the organization is following all of the recommendations and guidelines from health experts. That includes checking temperatures throughout the day and taking specific steps when someone begins to display symptoms.

Programming for the children will be drawn from the Y camps and after-school curriculum.

Hoey said the organization’s ability to pivot its mission is a demonstration of its “responsiveness, resourcefulness and character.” He said he was “deeply proud” of the Y’s staff.

The new mission comes during a challenging time for many other nonprofits and businesses. The Y has furloughed about two-thirds of its 3,100-member staff with an extra week’s pay and the hope to bring them back as soon as possible.

“We’re an organization that is also trying to figure out how are we going to make it through this,” Hoey said.

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Operating the day care programs will take about 100 of the Y’s staff.

The Y also is assisting the state in providing “grab and go” meals for families in need.

Additionally, the nonprofit is staying in regular contact with its 1,600 Head Start families with regular phone calls and online check-ins. Workers are helping families access food and offering lessons parents can provide at home to keep their kids engaged, learning and healthy.

People also can access the Y’s online exercise classes and family enrichment activities. Resources are available through the organization’s social media and electronic mailings. The goal is to give families ways to stay healthy in spirit, mind and body during the pandemic, the organization said.

Hoey thanked the families who have chosen to maintain their Y memberships even while the physical sites are closed. He said those membership dues become charitable contributions during the crisis, because of the Y’s nonprofit status. The money supports all of the Y’s community outreach efforts.

“Our members, along with donors, funders and other partners are critical to our ability to provide these vital community services and to remain viable through this crisis,” Hoey said. “Without them, this work would not be possible.”

For first responders and health care workers, the nonprofit Maryland Family Network also is working to help them find child care arrangements. Parents in essential professions can call the network or chat online to get information.

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