YMCA continuing school programs

Published 5:26 pm Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Smithfield’s Luter Family YMCA and Isle of Wight County Schools are working together to help provide an option for working families needing before and after school care and a structured environment for kids for virtual learning.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring, school and YMCA leaders quickly realized many families had a problem — parents who are essential workers needed to keep working, but school buildings were closed and learning was online only.

That left many parents with tough choices about jobs, schedules and school. Working families usually base their budget on an anticipated amount of before and after school care for their kids. But when the pandemic hit, the level and need for that care changed, on short notice, as did many people’s incomes, said Leslie Bryant, who is executive director of Smithfield’s Y.

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The Y’s certified childcare program experts worked with local school and state officials to create local daycare options for the COVID era for parents in essential job roles. In June, the program began offering services for all working families. The Y also provided summer programs and in the fall, when many students didn’t return to classrooms, the programs continued into this spring.

Bryant said those programs are also able to continue thanks to financial support from Smithfield Foods.

“Smithfield Foods support has been critical for us being able to offer the assistance for these families to ensure they can be in the program,” Bryant said. “If we didn’t have them as a partner, it would have greatly impacted the families — part of the funds that they give us helps us provide assistance to working families to be in the program.”

With that corporate support, no one is turned away from the program if they’re truly in need, Bryant said.

“Smithfield has a long history of supporting local educational initiatives, especially here in our hometown,” said Keira Lombardo, chief administrative officer for Smithfield Foods. “As a partner in youth development for the Luter Family YMCA, we were proud to support essential workers in our community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“From first responders and healthcare workers to our own Smithfield family working to maintain our nation’s food supply,” Lombardo continued, “Smithfield and the YMCA have come together to provide necessary childcare to assist with our community’s response to this crisis.”

Smithfield Foods donated $30,000 to support education programs at the Y in 2020, according to Jonathan Toms, the company’s charitable initiatives manager. Toms said Smithfield Foods has a longstanding relationship with the Y with the company, having donated at or around that level for many years and that “the partnership in 2020 built on our ongoing contributions of more than 20 years.”

Before and after school care is available at Carrollton, Hardy, Westside and Windsor elementary schools, as well as at the Y’s facilities. Even as many classrooms have reopened for in-person learning, the program is still going strong, serving about 120 students, Bryant said.

Moore said the partnership between the Y and Isle of Wight schools goes back 23 years. And recently, with financial support from Smithfield Foods, the program will continue to be available for families who need it.

“I would have never been able to handle my children’s online learning without the program at the Y,” Danette Green, a local Smithfield Foods employee, said in a recent announcement about the program. “The Y was able to put a checklist together for my kids to stay on track and provided them the opportunity to be active.”

Essential workers are also still benefiting from the program, like Morgan Harrup, who works for Sentara in an essential worker role. “When the Y started to offer this program to essential workers, it was such a relief because my husband and I were contemplating how one of us would quit our job and be able to survive. It has been a godsend. We are so appreciative,” Harrup said.

The Y staff have each student’s schedule to make sure they’re logged in for virtual learning and completing their other virtual work. Students and staff maintain social distancing and mask etiquette while in the program, and regular cleaning protocols are followed.