OLD BRIDGE – Working families and those with special needs have been trying to navigate the new normal of hybrid and remote learning for their children since the start of the 2020-21 school year. While local school districts tried to give parents ample time to make plans for a new school environment, it proved challenging for the Hileman family.
Morgan Hileman didn’t know how her Old Bridge family would juggle their complicated life schedule until she found out about a new program offered by the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County.
With a 4-month-old baby who has yet to come home from the hospital, she spends three days a week at the hospital and other medical facilities with her infant daughter and would need help for her second grader who would only be in school part of the week.
“I received a flier in my email about the new Y Academy in Old Bridge and immediately signed my son up for this program,” Hileman said.
The Y Academy has been a lifesaver, Hileman said. “It not only allows our son to learn in a safe environment, but it also allows me to be at the hospital for our daughter during these very difficult times,” she said.
Her 7-year-old Maverick is a student at Memorial Elementary in Laurence Harbor. He attends school one day a week and goes to the Y Academy at the Old Bridge Family YMCA on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. On Thursdays, he attends school from home.
“My son asks if he can go every day. I think he prefers the instructors at the Y over his mother as a teacher,” Hileman said.
The Y Academy opened on Oct. 5 in Old Bridge and at four other YMCA facilities in Monmouth County in September: YMCA Children’s Achievement Center in Matawan, Freehold Borough YMCA Community Center, Freehold Family YMCA, and the Red Bank Family YMCA. In all, more than 150 children are participating.
The unique program was created and evolved during the pandemic to support the community and working families with school-age children.
“One of our main goals was to provide convenient, flexible and safe child care options and academic support for working parents in our community,” said Y President and CEO Laurie Goganzer.
“This service was a welcome surprise, I’m so happy it was affordable and available for us,” Hileman said.
Children can attend the Y Academy two or three days a week for a half or full day. They can log in to their virtual classes from a personal device and get help with schoolwork from YMCA staff and volunteers. The Y offers non-contact activities, like yoga and STEAM challenges (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), and the kids get to spend time outdoors. They also take part in mindfulness activities.
The YMCA is one of the nation’s largest and most trusted child care providers.
“We have and continue to follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and local health department guidelines during the pandemic,” said Stacey Lastella, vice president of Child Achievement.
Children and staff wear masks, health screenings take place at drop off, and both children and parents are temperature checked, she noted.
In addition to the Y Academy, the Y offers before and after school care in 15 Monmouth County districts, and full-day kindergarten and full-time child care in Matawan and Freehold to support local families. Sliding-scale financial assistance is available for all programs.
The YMCA has responded to the changing needs of its member communities throughout the health emergency. While the Y was temporarily closed for recreation and physical fitness activities as part of the statewide shutdown, the organization shifted its focus to provide essential services, such as food and blood drives and emergency child care. The Y continues to offer COVID testing and mental health counseling services in person and via telehealth.
“The Y Academy is another commitment to supporting families and children in the communities we serve in Middlesex and Monmouth counties,” Goganzer said.
Goganzer added that community volunteers are welcome to lend a hand at the Y Academy as part of the nonprofit’s Togetherhood volunteer initiative.
“It’s a great way to come together as a community to support families and children though this new norm,” she said.
For information about the Y Academy and other YMCA programs, visit www.ymcanj.org.
Anyone interested in volunteering at a Y Academy can contact Lastella at email@example.com.
- This article was submitted by YMCA of Greater Monmouth County.