YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee

As many other child care centers closed across the area following Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order, leaders at the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee worried that health care workers and first responders would be further burdened as they lost that critical and essential service for their families. 

For that very reason, the YMCA decided to pivot and exclusively offer child care for area families of first responders and other essential workers. With guidance from the governor’s office, the city of Milwaukee Health Department and local health partners, the organization created its COVID-19 Emergency Response Camp.  

“The last thing (first responders and essential workers) need right now to worry about is the safety of their own families,” said Carrie Wall, YMCA president and CEO, at a press conference March 23 announcing the program. “They are already carrying the torch for us with the safety on their shoulders of so many.”

Through its Emergency Response Camp, the YMCA started providing licensed child care in late March for children ages 4 to 13 of first responders and health care workers at two pilot sites – Rite-Hite Family YMCA in Brown Deer and the Advocate Aurora Conference Center in Milwaukee. It later added Froedtert-MCW in Wauwatosa. The centers are open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Families are charged $50 a day.

Though child care is one of the YMCA’s core areas, transitioning from its traditional program to the pilot program required additional safety precautions, deep cleaning and specialized training. A $24,000 MKE Responds Fund grant helped with costs related to all-staff training, cleaning supplies and financial subsidies for families needing extra assistance.

“This situation requires an abundance of caution, but we have the substantial safety, youth and education resources to lead this effort, and we’re bringing our area’s top medical resources on board. We can keep our children not only safe, but on track,” Wall said.

Supporting Milwaukee’s early childhood education system is one of the key priority areas of the MKE Civic Response Team, the cross-sector coalition addressing COVID-19 in Milwaukee. In the short term, it is focused on helping reopen centers and stabilizing the sector. In the long term, there will be an added emphasis on advocacy for additional investment in the child care sector, recognizing its importance in the overall economic recovery of our community.

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