Our organization has struggled through the crisis, but we haven’t given up. In March, we had to furlough more than half of our staff. We worked hard to develop a new camp model that would be safe for children and staff in the middle of a pandemic. And, we began operating a mobile food pantry and delivering essential items to families in our neighborhood. We continue to work hard to meet the growing needs in the communities we serve.
Lack of childcare was a national crisis before COVID-19. During the 2019-20 school year, WYC was able to serve 715 children in Madison schools. At the same time, more than 3,000 children in Madison needed after school programs and couldn’t access them. Because schools are not considered essential, the governor has not requested they stay open. Childcare is essential and the governor encouraged all facilities to stay open even when other businesses were closed. This year, with elementary schools starting virtually, we anticipate 3,000-plus children will need access to all day care that supports them doing their virtual learning.
While this is a national issue, we are a local nonprofit and are working hard to do our part at the local level. We have and will continue to run safe, quality programs. Wisconsin Youth Company provides scholarships to a number of children recommended to us by teachers and school staff in all of our programs. We did this before the pandemic and will continue to do so as long as we have the resources.
The COVID-19 outbreak has added costs to running programs. Additional staff time, individual rather than group materials, new cleaning and sanitation supplies, and the need for PPE for staff and children are vital to operating during the pandemic.
Combine these additional costs with the need to keep programs affordable and accessible means we are walking a tightrope between serving families and draining our organization’s resources.
As a local nonprofit, we lack access to what other providers in our area have. National organizations have an elaborate fundraising structure. We have one amazing fund development staff. MSCR is funded through the school district which has received federal CARES act dollars. Other childcare programs have also received funding through the CARES act, but as of now, afterschool programs like ours have not been eligible to receive those funds. In addition, WI Shares, a state childcare subsidy for low-income families, is not currently available for childcare during the school day, leaving many families without a way to pay for necessary care during virtual school days.
WYC needs support from the community to continue operating and making sure that our programs are accessible for children and families. We need supplies for children in programs. We need donations to our scholarship fund to ensure we can offer financial support to families in need. We also need advocacy at local and state levels that federal pandemic relief funds can be used to support virtual school day programs. And, we need patience and understanding.
We simply cannot meet the existing need alone. As a community, we need to work together to find solutions. We owe it to our children.