Repurposing Facilities in Time of Need: YMCA Provides Childcare to Essential Workers

During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the only constant is change. With every newscast or headline, new preventive measures are suggested or older ones modified, all while we adjust to working and learning from home.

Students are spending their time working on art projects like this “virtual hug” to send to friends and loved ones.

Change, however, gives each of us the opportunity to grow and evolve. That includes United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) and our network of more than 80 nonprofit partner agencies. This is especially true for the YMCA of Greater Birmingham, which is providing an urgent service to essential workers.

“When we closed our facilities, we realized we had a unique opportunity to divert those facilities to emergency childcare for essential workers in the city,” said Dan Pile, Executive Director of YMCA of Greater Birmingham. “Without members in the building, we have multiple empty rooms, so we’re able to observe the social distancing and small group requirements.”

The program is a direct response to school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and provides a safe, affordable childcare option for the heroes of our community — healthcare workers, first responders and grocery store employees, just to name a few — who continue to work in their public-facing jobs and can’t be home with their kids. School-age children (K-8) are hosted at different YMCA locations, where they’re able to do their schoolwork, read and even play special games.

The poem from the “virtual hug” project.

“A lot of children’s games involve close contact or even physical touch,” said Pile. “In a sign of the times, the YMCA staff got together on an online video conference and came up with some games that could get kids moving while also keeping them safe. It’s funny how innovative this crisis has made us.”

Right now, the program is serving about 50 children, although Pile hopes to open up to more students soon. The YMCA of Greater Birmingham is also extending childcare hours to accommodate the longer schedules of healthcare workers, many of whom work in 12-hour shifts. Students are asked to bring their own meals, so as to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

“Everything you do, you just have to be so careful, and the safety of the children is our top priority,” said Pile.

While much of his staff has stepped up to facilitate the incredible new program, Pile has had to watch from home: as the recipient of an organ donation 28 years ago, he’s among the most vulnerable groups. Nevertheless, he’s still showing the staff and kids that he cares.

“I drive by and wave to everybody to show them I love them,” said Pile.

To support the vital work of agencies, such as the YMCA of Greater Birmingham, donate to United Way of Central Alabama’s Community Crisis Fund. You can also stay up to date on the community response and other resources at the Response and Resources page, or find volunteer opportunities (including remote options) on Involve, our online volunteer platform.

Update: As of May 2020, YMCA of Greater Birmingham is providing childcare to more than 125 essential workers.