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Guest column: Strengthening communities by supporting our youth

By Kelsey Shea

YMCA Community Engagement Coordinator

The year 2020 has been filled with lots of unforeseen changes for the community and organizations of  Austin and the YMCA at Austin Community Recreation Center (ACRC) is no exception.

Our brand new facility first opened to the public on Feb. 3. The Rec Center quickly became a popular  gathering space for both community and YMCA members to create memories with their family and  friends. In mid-March, Gov. Walz issued an executive order to temporarily close fitness centers in  response to the COVID-19  pandemic. While this did impact fitness operations, it did not stop the YMCA at ACRC’s important mission to respond to community needs, in particular childcare. 

There are plenty of activities to keep kids busy at the YMCA at Austin Community Recreation Center. Photo provided

Throughout the pandemic, the YMCA at ACRC has maintained operation of essential childcare needs and  pivoted when necessary to continue to serve school aged children. In March, the YMCA offered all day  school aged childcare for emergency workers. On June 8,  we began offering summer childcare with the  YMCA Summer Daze program. In September, as the new school year began, the YMCA offered preschool  and afterschool childcare. In October, it was announced children would be distance learning on  Wednesday, so the YMCA at ACRC began all day childcare. Starting Nov. 23, the district  announced that they would be moving to a distance learning model until Jan. 4, 2021, so the YMCA  provided all day care five days a week. 

The YMCA at ACRC is very proud to be operating and maintaining a safe environment of high-quality  programming for both preschool and school aged children. The safety of children, our staff, and the  Austin community is our number one priority. We follow guidance from the State of Minnesota and the  Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control, Y-USA and any direction given from local health  authorities. We are diligent in keeping up on the latest guidelines and amend our policies and  procedures when necessary to reflect the best practices during the COVID-19 Pandemic. All drop  offs/pick-ups of children in our care occur right at the child’s vehicle to limit the number of people  entering the building. Upon arrival, all children wash their hands and we practice increased  handwashing throughout the day. We have increased cleaning protocols to ensure touch points are  getting cleaned and disinfected throughout the day. We have also kept group sizes small to allow for  adequate social distancing. 

At the YMCA at ACRC,  you can expect more than simply childcare. You can rest-assure that your  children will be provided with opportunities for learning and recreation. We have come up with exciting  games and activities to keep the children moving, engaged and active while minimizing the use of  shared equipment. Each child has their own bag of art supplies. Children in our programming have  access to the YMCA gymnasium and Indoor Playground to burn off energy. In addition, healthy snacks  are offered daily. Students enrolled in preschool receive a session of swimming lessons at no additional  cost. 

The following testimonial is from Jessica Hutchinson, a parent and community partner. “My experience  with the YMCA at ACRC Preschool has been nothing short of fantastic. From the attention and care given  to my son, to the love and learning he is getting, I feel I am giving him the best start possible! In a time  where uncertainty seems to be the only predictable thing, the YMCA has proven itself to be a leader in  providing a safe environment where my son can continue in-person learning. The YMCA at ACRC not  only provides a safe space for my child, but for other children as well. They provide childcare and distance learning support for school-aged children and a safe space for students enrolled in the A.C.E  Tutoring program in partnership with Austin Aspires to receive tutoring support two days a week. Their  dedication and support for our young learners during this time is commendable and I am proud to be a  YMCA at ACRC Preschool parent and partner. On behalf of my family and Austin Aspires, Thank You!”

At the YMCA at ACRC, we are proud to support our community through high-quality youth  programming. We hope that 2021 brings a return to our wellness operations. Until then, we will  continue to serve where we can and make the most impact for working families and youth. If you have  questions or would like to enroll your child in a YMCA program, please email us at info@ymcaatacrc.org.