At the Y, inclusive child care begins with well-equipped adults

Ask any parent; there is a need for high-quality child care in Kosciusko County.

The Kosciusko County YMCA seeks to meet that need by doing what they do best: Put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.

“This past summer, we had over 200 students in summer camp,” said Rachel Hardy, child care director at the YMCA. “In our before-and-after school care program, Kids Club, we have almost 300.” The students represent a wide variety of backgrounds, grades and ages. They also range in physical ability and emotional maturity.

But that does not daunt the YMCA child care staff. They are moved to care for and connect with each student. “After they get dropped off, our child care staff are the first people the kids see before the school day,” said Stacy Thomas, director of operations. The staff are there at the end of the day, too. “Our team has done an excellent job of finding routines for the kids, so they know they’re in a safe environment and can emotionally regulate,” Stacy explained.

In 2021, the Y received a Working Together Fund grant from the Community Foundation. As part of their grant, their staff began Inclusive Training provided by Lisa Drennan through MERGE Consulting. They learned how to engage with students of all abilities.

As they applied what they learned to the 2022 camp season, the staff noticed an almost-immediate difference. They were able to better connect with, discipline and teach the students trusted to their care. Perhaps most importantly, the staff found meaningful ways to engage children with physical limitations.

As a result, the YMCA’s 2022 summer camp met the needs of all students.

“The training has given the staff confidence; it’s also helped us to work together better,” Rachel said. “Everyone is trying new things and isn’t afraid to fail. It’s even helping the kids self-regulate and positively influence one another.”

One student blossomed as the recipient of such care. As a 7-year-old limited by physical challenges, the student had struggled to find friends. She simply could not keep up with her peers. While at summer camp, encouraged by the tone set by the staff, the student’s peers lovingly surrounded her and made sure she was involved.

“The training has helped us meet our mission,” said Stacy. “We say that we’re ‘for all’. We’re able to make adaptations for kids so families can continue to work and be successful – it’s huge for our community.” The ripple effect on families throughout Kosciusko County is already making a lasting difference.