As a single dad, Vincent Szwarc wasn’t sure what to do about child care for his 8-year-old daughter, Gracie, when Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools closed in mid-March and then switched to computer-based learning because of COVID-19.
His job as an internet installer requires that he start his day at 8 a.m. and travel to people’s homes, primarily in rural areas.
“I actually took her with me a few times because I had no choice,” Szwarc said.
Then he found out about Crisis Care under the Expanded Learning Program that is run by Imprints Cares, a nonprofit organization in Forsyth County.
Crisis Care started March 23 as a partnership between Imprints Cares and WS/FCS to provide child care for essential workers during the pandemic. Its last day of operation will be Friday, but Imprints Cares hopes to start a summer camp next week.
The program has served more than 123 families at six locations — Ashley, Brunson, Morgan, Speas and Kernersville elementary schools, as well as a site for students with special needs at the Imprints Cares main office at 502 N. Broad St. in downtown Winston-Salem.
“It was so important as we saw across the country how important these essential workers are,” said Betty West, the director of the Expanded Learning Program for Imprints Cares. “They had to go to work every day and we wanted to be able to support them and have a nurturing environment for their children to come to while they had to be on the front lines.”
Brent Campbell, WS/FCS chief marketing and communications officer, said school officials believe that Crisis Care has been successful.
“I think they’ve had a steady enrollment and participation has been steady,” Campbell said. “For us, if we can partner with an organization that helps solve a need, especially in a time like this, then it’s a success. If it also ensures that our students are getting access to the things that we want them to have access to, that’s successful.”
He said school officials knew students would be in an environment where they could continue their e-learning and have the availability of WiFi access all day.
Imprints Cares is an early-childhood education nonprofit. The organization, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, has two primary programs — Ready for School and Expanded Learning.
Ready for School serves families from the prenatal period through age 5 by supporting parents and helping prepare children to be ready for school. The program focuses on low-income and high-risk families.
Expanded Learning offers before- and after-school care and summer-enrichment camps for all families.
During the school year through a partnership with WS/FCS, Imprints Cares is on site at 23 schools offering before- and after-school care, as well as at its location for special-needs children at its downtown office.
The current cost for before and after school is $240 a month, and summer camp costs $165 a week.
West said all of the revenue that Expanded Learning brings in goes directly back into Imprints Cares’ nonprofit work.
Filling a need
Initially, Szwarc was concerned about the cost for Gracie to attend Crisis Care.
But Imprints Cares received a $100,000 grant from the COVID-19 Response Fund for Forsyth County to offer tuition assistance.
“It would normally have been $225 a week for this COVID care and families only had to pay $100,” West said.
The organization also received support from people in the community and a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.
Szwarc said he cannot say enough good things about Imprints Cares.
He said the operating hours, which are 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. weekdays, are accommodating for people who work.
Andy Williard of Winston-Salem and his wife enrolled their 5-year-old daughter in Crisis Care.
“She seems to love it and I like it a lot,” said Williard, who is co-owner of a parts company for appliances and electronics. “It’s something for her to do and hang out with other kids all day, like if we had normal school open.”
Safety measures and the staff
Imprints Cares employs current and former school-system teachers, as well as college students from local colleges and universities.
There are site supervisors at each Crisis Care location who greet parents outside each day as they drive up with their children.
“I’ve never been in the building,” Szwarc said. “They don’t allow parents in.”
West said Imprints Cares follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and keeps in contact with the Forsyth County Health Department.
Children do not get out of the vehicles until after they have had their temperatures taken and been asked questions about their health.
The children are broken down into small groups. Hand washing and social distancing are also part of the schedule.
Mats Hugosson, a recent graduate of Winston-Salem State University in health and physical education, and Bridget Quillen, a former teacher with WS/FCS, have worked as site supervisors for Crisis Care.
“The way that we set it up as far as safety precautions, I think we did a really good job,” said Hugosson.
He said he is proud of the fact that the organization had enough staff to individually work with each child on their homework.
Quillen said she was glad that Crisis Care was available as an option for families.
“I have heard of so many families that were unable to go to work because they had no one to help them with child care,” Quillen said.
Szwarc said he loved the fact that Crisis Care was structured and the staff helped Gracie with her homework.
“She liked it more than school, he said laughing. “There have been a couple of mornings where she has beat me out the door and that has never happened before when she was going to school.”
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