From the Cares Act, Helena YMCA received a $1 million grant to support their Distance Learning Child Care program, an idea that was provided by the City of Helena and Lewis & Clark County.
“We met with them and they said 'we would like you to provide childcare for our workers,'” explains Judi Allen, Helena YMCA Interim CEO. “And I said, 'Well, you know, that'd be great, but we have a problem. We don't have a building,’ because we would be leaving Lincoln School."
The city, the county, and the fairgrounds agreed to let the YMCA use their Exhibition Hall for the program.
As of October 16th, the YMCA has about 50 students enrolled into the program. They have the capacity of 160 students. That's about ten students per pod. They can have up to 18 pods, which is one pod per school, including middle schools. There is also the possibility of expansion should there be an overflow.
The Youth Director says this structure maintains pandemic safety for everyone and allows students to get back to normalcy.
“I'm getting tons of feedback from kids as well as parents,” says Alex Reid, the Youth Director. “A lot of the parents are just thankful that it's somewhat normal again, because when they're able to send their kids somewhere else when they're not going to school, that makes it feel like they're back on a normal track of school."
The grant money will also be used to help families in need of child care. With the grant, the Y hopes to reduce their cost of $40 a day to $30 a day. City and county workers will only pay half of that amount, and financial aid applications are available for those needing more assistance paying for child care.
“No parent or family saw that they would need this kind of child care in their budget. They can plan for the summers, but all of a sudden realize they have to find three days of care for their kids," says Allen.
YMCA expects to have this Child Care Program available throughout the school year. As of October 16th, they stated they haven't had one case of COVID-19.
Due to increased demand, the Y is seeking about 10 individuals to hire to help with the child care program.