The Rappahannock Regional YMCA has received a financial boost to help sustain its popular Virtual Learning Center program, a collaborative child care and educational effort with schools across the region.
The $100,000 Rappahannock United Way grant to the YMCA was announced recently to help offset some of the costs associated with the program, which provides a place for students of working parents to participate in virtual learning during the day and child care when classes are over.
“This grant allows us to have the necessary supplies and the support to be able to help the families financially in need,” said Barney Reiley, chief executive officer of the Rappahannock Area YMCA.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Rappahannock United Way President Janel Donohue said her organization was placing much of its focus on helping working parents struggling to make ends meet. Donohue said many of them are first responders, health care workers and other essential employees in the community, whose primary needs include rent and mortgage assistance, child care, transportation and work certification and credentials.
“When we learned the YMCA was providing the child care and we could help supplement the cost, we wanted to be part of it,” Donohue said. “Our donors want United Way to react to the needs of the community, and that’s what we did.”
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Rappahannock Area YMCA has stepped up to ensure school-aged children receive quality care and education while their parents are at work. The Virtual Learning Center program is offered at YMCA branches in Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George and Caroline counties, as well as a dozen schools in Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George.
“We saw the need and we did it,” said Devlin Reiley, marketing and public relations director for the YMCA. “That’s what the YMCA has always been: the center of the community.”
Reiley said without grants like the one received from the Rappahannock United Way, her organization would not be able to adequately sustain the popular program. She said the grant money will be used to help pay for additional laptops, upgrades in Wi-Fi service, food, snacks and other essentials needed by the workers who are onsite helping kids go through their daily classes.
“There’s going to be needs that we don’t know of now that will pop up that we’ll be able to fulfill, because of the grant,” she said.
The money could not have come at a better time, as student numbers in the program are expected to rise as a result of school’s moving closer toward a hybrid learning plan, which blends traditional classroom instruction with online learning activities.
“We want a stress-free environment and make sure the kids have everything that they need,” said Reiley. “The kids are trying to adapt. ... Learning through the computers all day is tiresome and stressful.”
Spotsylvania public schools plan to move to a hybrid model Oct. 12, while Stafford and King George counties are looking at making the move soon. Caroline County schools will continue to learn from home through December.
Alicia Kindred, executive director of the Ron Rosner YMCA in Spotsylvania, said about 100 children are enrolled in the program in that county, and staff members are preparing for even more.
“The focus for YMCAs across the nation is ensuring kids receive their education, and our job is to ensure the children are logged on with their teachers and classes in grades K through 5,” said Kindred. “Hybrid learning will bring more kids, and we’re preparing for that now.”
Meaghan Williams, executive director of the King George Family YMCA, said the Virtual Learning Program, which first started for children of essential workers only, has evolved further to now include all working families, in addition to educators with school-age children themselves.
“There was a huge need,” said Williams.
The program in King George serves about 140 children. Williams said the program operates out of the three elementary schools in the county for all school staff, including teachers, administrators and bus drivers. At the YMCA branch, children of both teachers and working families participate in the program.
Williams said virtual learning in King George takes place every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays, students are not with their teachers, but time is set aside to catch up on previous assignments or tackle new ones. The second half of Wednesdays are usually spent conducting physical fitness activities.
“We try to do as many activities with them as possible,” said Williams.
Stafford County has about 180 children enrolled in the program, while the Caroline YMCA has about 20.
Donohue hopes her organizations’ grant will further help the YMCA program meet the educational needs of children throughout the region. She also hopes it will help bring relief to families saddled with financial worries associated with child care costs.
“Parents have a little peace of mind to be able to go to work and earn a living without worrying about their kids’ education,” said Donohue. “It’s a win–win all the way around.”
James Scott Baron: