When the YMCA Learning Center of Gainesville first opened its doors to the public on Feb. 24, 2020, Cassandra Whisnat said she remembers the excitement of welcoming the facility’s first two children. She also remembers three weeks later when the “world essentially shut down.”
“I truly feel blessed we were able to still serve children,” Whisnat, the center’s program director, said. “As schools shut down, the Y shifted and changed our game plan and served school-age children, and also took in children who were in day cares unable to stay open.”
A year later, the center’s enrollment has reached 40 kids, ranging from infants to 4-year-olds. The facility even expanded its reach, opening a second location in early December inside the former Little House Academy.
“I can’t believe it’s already been a year,” Whisnat said. “I’ve enjoyed watching the children grow and watching how even though there’s so much craziness going on in the world, it didn’t affect them. I credit that to my staff. Even at that beginning of March and April when things were so uncertain, the stress levels never got out of hand, and the children never felt our personal anxiety.”
During the first months of the pandemic, Whisnat said the center, located at Evangel Church on 1537 Pine Valley Road, took in 50 school-aged children each week to help working families in the area.
To abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 guidelines, the facility had to limit its intake, prioritizing children with parents or guardians who worked as health care professionals, first responders or grocery staff. Hannah Langston, the Gainesville center’s assistant program director, said even today a large portion of those they serve work within those fields.
“It’s been a blessing just to be able to provide care for the people in health care and first responders,” Langston said. “When the crisis came, a lot of places were closing, but we continued to stay open.”
Since March 2020, Langston said most of the center’s COVID-19 protocols have remained the same, including regular handwashing, frequent cleaning of surfaces, temperature checks at the door and separating age groups into different rooms. Langston said during the beginning of the pandemic, parents weren’t allowed to enter the building. However, now they can walk past the check-in door.
Because of their strict practices, Langston said none of either centers’ children have tested positive for COVID-19. Whisnat credits both facilities’ ability to stay open to their protocols, devoted staff and support from YMCA board members.
“We are just thankful as an organization that parents in our community continue to choose us for their child care needs, when we are aware there are other options,” she said.