The Loudon County Boys & Girls Club in Lenoir City aims to provide affordable services to families whose children are out of school at least through April 3.
After Dean Deatherage, local executive director, heard the community “express a need” for affordable day care services, the club took action. The club serves many families who work in businesses that are continuing to operate such as hospitals and grocery stores.
“Now that schools are canceled, I think we’re here for the kids who their parents don’t have the opportunity to work, remotely work, or you know, just get their bills paid through not going to work every day,” Deatherage said.
The club normally operates after school but is now open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Deatherage said the club is “coming off spring break” where they were open for the full day hours anyway, making the transition easier.
“We serve a lot of families that are, you know, they’re not sitting on significant nest eggs,” Bart McFadden, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley, said. “That continued income is vitally important, and we’re confident in our ability to provide that resource to families in a safe and affordable way.”
Typically, a week of full-day childcare services costs $75. However, the club recognizes that $75 a week may be too expensive for some families.
“A lot of parents don’t pay anything, or they pay somewhere in the middle, or we get a certificate from the state,” Deatherage said. “So it varies per household. Then in these times where people just don’t know, we put out that outreach application so they can leave their child here for $25 a week.”
The club aims to meet the basic needs of children by providing breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. While schools are out, the club is changing some of its normal activities to accommodate more learning and education.
“I imagine (our activities) will be changing more to support schools,” Deatherage said. “I assume they will start doing some remote learning if this thing stretches out, and we want to keep their minds active and engaged, so we’re looking to provide them space to do their work if they have online work.
“Of course, we’ve got computers and things here for them to do that and then just, you know, for right now keeping them reading and their minds going and engaged in activities that involve math and English and science and doing experiments,” he added. “Just doing what we normally do but just ramping it up.”
The club is also taking precautions with health and safety that include disinfecting surfaces throughout the day, checking children for fevers and washing hands often. They are also keeping smaller staff-to-child ratios at one to 10.
“Most importantly, in the long term, having some level of normalcy for kids in the midst of an incredibly unstable situation,” McFadden said. “I think every adult in society right now is at a feeble strength, and it’s very difficult, and being able to provide kids a safe place where they can still have childlike fun is very important. As long as we can responsibly do so, we’re going to continue to serve kids in the midst of this situation. That’s our commitment, our board’s commitment, and that’s what we’re doing.”