YMCA brings life back to Latham School

YMCA Site Director Skye Stier sanitizes a classroom at Latham School on Sept. 3. in preparation for the return of youngsters.

Despite closing last year, the halls of Latham School will once again fill with children this fall.

Eugene Family YMCA staff began cleaning the school early this month in preparation for the return of YMCA care in Cottage Grove — this time in a venue with historical roots.

“We’re hoping to provide [families] a little bit of normalcy,” said Youth Development Director Holly Kriz-Anderson. “So their kiddos can be dropped off and they know that they’re going to get their classwork done, they’re going to have some social interactions and definitely physical activity.”

Beginning Sept. 21, when South Lane School District (SLSD) is due to start fall term, the Y will begin offering full-day care (from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) instead of its traditional afterschool program. 

In working with SLSD, the full-day care will include support for the district’s Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) model.

The Eugene Family YMCA expanded its program in Cottage Grove last year when it opened up after-school options at Harrison Elementary School. Toward the end of the school year, the organization started busing kids from London and Bohemia elementary schools to participate in the Harrison program. It seemed the program was set to grow — but then the pandemic hit.

The YMCA reached out to SLSD to learn how they could provide care in South Lane, said Kriz-Anderson. 

Though Latham had closed its doors last year, ending 166 years of presence in the community, its vacancy made it a viable new option.

After sending a certifier through the building, Kriz-Anderson said it will just take some “cleaning and some tweaking” and the space will soon be ready for children.

According to state guidelines, Kriz-Anderson said the building’s capacity is at 120 kids, but, “Ideally, we think 60 would be a good number to start with,” she said.

Only 13 kids have enrolled for the time being.

The program, which is aimed at kids in kindergarten through fifth grade, is understandably making some changes in light of restrictions.

First, it is integrating the district’s CDL model by getting YMCA staff familiar with how to operate programs like Google Classroom and making sure kids have access to devices.

The program will also offer enrichment programs, such as focusing on giving back to community with letter-writing projects and creating cards.

Additionally, the YMCA has plans to incorporate plenty of physical activity such as dance and yoga “and focus on getting ourselves healthy,” said Kriz-Anderson. “There are some physical distancing requirements, but once we’re in our stable groups, then kiddos will be able to move more freely with those.”

Cleaning and sanitizing will take a much bigger role in staff hours and Kriz-Anderson noted that things may be a bit different from what they see in school, but she said, “if we wear our masks and wash our hands and make sure we sanitize and clean, then everybody’s doing that best that we can.”

To ease the way over some of the barriers families may be facing these days, transportation from a child’s school and financial assistance will be made available.

Though tuition can be around $725, Kriz-Anderson said this year’s back-to-school schedule is staggered and so tuition will likely be less.

“I do know that tuition is a concern, so there is financial assistance available for families,” she said. “People just need to ask and apply and we’ll be able to do that financial assistance. … All they need to do is ask.”

They Y has received donations from foundations who want to help families in Cottage Grove such as Woodard Family Foundation, US Bank and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.

“We’re grateful for the foundations for their support,” said Kriz-Anderson. “And that money we want to put into the program, but also into financial assistance. We don’t want money to be a barrier for families.”

Though there are enough staff to run the programs as currently prepared, the Y is hiring.

“We love to hire from the community, so anyone that has any sort of experience or education credits or a student who has child care experience, we would love to hire,” said Kriz-Anderson.

More information about jobs with the YMCA can be found at www.eugeneymca.org/jobs.

In the end, Kriz-Anderson hopes to bring some respite to working families in the area.

“We want people to apply for the financial assistance. We want their kids to be somewhere safe and not at home by themselves,” she said. “And let families know that they’re able to work and know that their kiddos are safe.”

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