Gothenburg YMCA Provides Critical Community Child Care

In less than one week, the YMCA at Gothenburg Health staff transitioned from organizing fitness classes and sports leagues to changing diapers and leading craft time for elementary students.

Staff at all three YMCA of the Prairie branches have stepped up to help their communities after the YMCAs temporarily closed due to COVID-19, but the staff at Gothenburg have seen their jobs change most drastically.

Gothenburg YMCA Executive Director Julie Czochara claims she’s not cut out to work in child care, but that is exactly what she and her dedicated staff have been doing since March 23.

“When all of the major daycares closed in Gothenburg, the hospital workers who needed to go to work needed a place for their children to go,” Czochara said. “We thought this would be a great way to help out the community and the hospital workers.”

The YMCA closed temporarily at 8 p.m. March 17 to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19. Czochara and her full-time staff then met with hospital leaders, and together they decided that the spaces used for weight lifting, swim lessons, fitness classes and child watch could become child care spaces.

The YMCA applied for a temporary child care license, and it was granted.

Czochara, Program Director Isaac Egenberger, Membership Engagement Director Lisa Franzen and Youth Development Director Antonia Mendez sent out a plea to the community asking for pack-and-plays, booster seats and other necessities.
“The community just loaded us up in two days,” Czochara said.

Staff sanitized the entire facility and turned the youth building into a school-age room; the Child Watch into a Pre-K room and the fitness center into a full nursery for infants and toddlers complete with cribs, toys, little tables and rugs.

The Y has served up to 30 children a day ages 6 months to 10 years from Gothenburg, Maxwell, Arnold and North Platte. The facility is open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday. Lunches are provided by the school two days a week and the hospital cafeteria the other days. Kids in the YMCA’s child care rotate through the YMCA to enjoy swimming, games on the walking track and gym or outdoor time.

The temporary child care has helped the Y continue its mission during the pandemic and has helped children discover their potential and learn, grow and thrive. Czochara said one 3-year-old boy was scared to put his face in the water when he first started at the child care, but after six weeks he has gained enough confidence to jump in carefree.

Czochara said she is grateful for the community’s support during this time.

“Almost every day, we get random Amazon packages with crayons and paints and all sorts of supplies for kids,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

She’s also grateful for the full and part-time staff, including high school and college students, who have stepped up to help.

“They have been amazing doing the things that they never thought they would be doing,” Czochara said. “They have really done a great job!”

Once daycares start reopening, Czochara said they will encourage parents to return their children to their regular daycares to support those providers. And, the YMCA staff will once again plan sports leagues and fitness classes and continue its mission in other ways.

YMCA of the Prairie CEO Riley Gruntorad said all YMCA staff have been amazing during this time.

“It has been tough not being open,” Gruntorad said. “We want to do everything we can to still make an impact during these times. Safely and responsibly, we continue to provide for our communities during closure and will follow the same approach when we begin planning our re-opening procedures.”

In Lexington, Sunday afternoon Community Cruises organized by the Orthman Community YMCA have attracted more than 90 cars each week.

Gruntorad said he received an email from a member with the following thanks for the YMCA’s service in Lexington.

“The Y is doing a great job giving to our community during the pandemic. Our family has taken part in the community cruise and really enjoyed it. Something so simple has given us an activity we can all do, and we look forward to it. I also see that you’re offering free Zoom classes and a few Facebook classes. Thank you for working hard and thinking beyond the “I can’t” to find the possibilities. Thank you for encouraging the Lexington community when things look sad and gloomy.” – Marsha Banzhaf

At the Don Sjogren Community YMCA in Holdrege, staff organized a community bear hunt and Easter egg hunt and provide weekly craft kits, fitness equipment checkout and are planning a virtual 5K training and a virtual Silver Run.
Branch Executive Director Janell Brown said she and her staff miss the members!

“An empty Y is heartbreaking to walk into every day,” Brown said.

She is grateful for the leadership team and staff who have taken on new tasks, especially Laurel Thorell, Tasha Manahan, Amanda Gonzales and Connie Jacobson who are keeping group exercise classes going virtually.
Gruntorad said he wanted to say thank you to all YMCA of the Prairie members for their continued support and to other community organizations that have partnered with the Y for projects to support youth, adults and seniors during this time.

Gruntorad said he wanted to say thank you to all YMCA of the Prairie members for their continued support and to other community organizations that have partnered with the Y for projects to support youth, adults and seniors during this time.

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