How the YMCA has maintained childcare safety during the pandemic

By Madison Hursh

In the midst of a global pandemic, children have been affected immensely in their daily life. Schools have shut down, sports were put on hold, and even things as little as toys have been taken away from them to minimize the spread of bacteria and viruses. 

The youth in the last year have experienced something that no one in our generation has. However, their bright and positive minds have not been tainted while at the YMCA of greater St. Petersburg. 

Over the past year, while still following the CDC guidelines in order to keep the people of Pinellas County protected, the YMCA has come up with ways to still continue childcare and keep the kids entertained and happy. 

On the last Friday of every month, YMCA Greding St. Petersburg hosts what they call Parents Night Out. For $60, The YMCA allows families to drop their kids off for three hours in the evening, from 6 to 9 p.m.. 

This gives parents an opportunity to use a Friday night to do whatever they would like to do in order to wind down after a long month. During the night out, the YMCA promises to maintain CDC guidelines in order to keep the children safe while in their care. 

At the Parents Night Out, kids are told to bring swimsuits so they can swim in the olympic size swimming pool, they are given arts and crafts to finish and take home when the night is over, and they wrap their night eating Hungry Howie’s pizza and watching a movie of their choice. The three hours are jam-packed with activities to keep them busy while their parents have some alone time. 

Although it may seem impossible for the YMCA to maintain social distancing and mask mandates at this time, they make it happen to their best ability. Children and employees are asked to wear face masks at all times. The employees also set up workstations that are 6 feet apart in the classroom. These workstations are where kids do their arts and crafts and where they eat their pizza and watch the movie. YMCA provides hand sanitizer at every table and disinfects each area after being used. 

Keeping the area clean and the kids distanced may seem like an easy task. However, it is not as easy as it seems because kids have not fully grasped the seriousness of the pandemic. 

Naturally, children gravitate toward each other and struggle keeping their hands to themselves. A lot of the kids at the camp already knew each other prior to the night out and without thinking, wanted to give each other hugs, and share their toys and food. 

Keeping the children 6 feet apart is one of the hardest struggles the child care workers face at the YMCA. One of the child care leaders, Courtney Gornik, has been with the YMCA for four years and described trying to impose the guidelines as “stressful.”

“Having such strict guidelines during the pandemic has been hard. It is already hard for us to make sure the kids are keeping their hands to themselves, but the added Florida guidelines have made it more stressful,” Gornick said. 

One of the child participants of Parents Night Out, Ella-Vae said she is not a fan of having to wear a mask. 

“It makes it hard for me to breathe when I’m trying to play and falls off too easily,” Ella-Vae said.

 The childcare workers explained that having to ask the kids to keep a mask on at all times is one of the hardest tasks to accomplish while caring for the kids during the pandemic. 

Childcare has not been the only difficult task to achieve during the global pandemic. Sporting events and programs at the YMCA have faced many alterations since March 2020. For nearly an entire year from March 2020 to March 2021, sports were put on hold. 

The annual soccer program canceled practices and games. Basketball was also put on hold. The YMCA did not have the space to hold spectators and athletes while still following all of the CDC guidelines suggested by the state. 

The YMCA is finally, and slowly, finding its way back to normal by reviving sports that were put on hold. Four weeks ago, the YMCA brought back their soccer program for the first time since the pandemic. Because practices and games are held outside, it was easier to maintain social distancing. Spectators were asked to bring masks for when they interact with other people. 

Coaches and referees wear their masks at all times, and YMCA athletic employees are asked to clean up after all sporting events. 

The kids have struggled with abiding by the mask mandates and social distancing. However, they are happy to see their lives finally starting to go back to normal as vaccinations are being distributed and COVID-19 cases are on the decline.

 The pandemic has taught kids how the world can have unfortunate events but they will always have better days to look forward to. The youth of Gulfport and Midtown bring a sense of light to the neighborhood despite the darkness around them. 

This coming summer, starting the second week of June, the YMCA will be holding their annual summer camp. Last summer, the YMCA held the camp despite the various lockdowns, but made the services available to primarily essential-worker families. 

As of now, the YMCA will still ask the participants to continue wearing their protective face coverings, and social distancing will be encouraged. Depending on the anticipated changes of the CDC COVID-19 guidelines, changes in such rules will be revisited.