When many local schools announced they would be conducting the school year through remote learning or hybrid options, YMCA of Montclair CEO Buddy Evans decided to pivot, yet again.

He converted the space at the Geyer Family YMCA location into classrooms, upgraded the technology to handle 100-150 computer devices working off the building’s WiFi, and ultimately opened up for an in-person, full-day, school-age child care program.

A student takes virtual class on a laptop. A Y instructor is next to her on a laptop.
The Learning Enrichment Community program provides a safe space for remote learning.

In this new Learning Enrichment Community (LEC) program, the Geyer Family YMCA allows students whose schools are operating through remote learning to come in and take their virtual classes under the supervision of trained and certified staff. This unique opportunity allows children to keep a somewhat normal routine of going into an outside learning environment every day, while relieving parents and guardians from 24/7 child care duties.

“It’s really been a fantastic program for us,” Evans said. “It’s something that we’d never thought we’d be doing but we are, and we’re serving about 110-115 children a day over at Geyer in this program.”

A man takes a box of food out of a trunk. Another man behind him does the same.
The YMCA of Montclair hosted food drives to combat food insecurity.

The LEC program is simply just the latest of innovative pivots the YMCA of Montclair has conducted throughout the pandemic which include: running a safe summer camp, and becoming a PPE distribution site, blood drive center, food drive distribution site and emergency child care center.

“We wanted to make sure that we were still relevant in this community and that the community knew that the Y would always be there for them,” Evans said.

To ensure safety in the LEC program, the children each take their virtual classes in the same small pods with the same Y instructors and staff, who constantly communicate with the students’ teachers and help keep them on track throughout the day. Entry into the building has been reduced to only the children, staff and members – who must all undergo temperature checks prior to entry. Parents and guardians are not permitted inside the building, and must drop off and pick up their children at the door.

“We have tried to use every nook and cranny knowing that if we have empty space and it could help serve a need in the community and help care for a child – [we’d do that], so that’s what we did,” said Evans.

A camper in a bouncy house wears a mask.The Y staff completely reconfigured the Geyer Street location – splitting up the gymnasium with barriers to build classrooms, and even doing the same in the lobby.

The Pandemic Hits, The Y Pivots

Just days prior to the March 16 statewide shutdown, the YMCA of Montclair was forced to close both of its locations after a member tested positive with COVID-19 at the Park Street location.

With its doors forced shut, inevitable furloughs and layoffs followed in suit. But, Evans was still determined for the YMCA of Montclair to make a positive impact in the community – and it did in a number of ways.

A man gives blood
The YMCA of Montclair housed American Red Cross blood drives.

Evans led the YMCA of Montclair to become a PPE drop-off and distribution site for local hospitals, a space for emergency child care for front line and essential workers, an American Red Cross blood drive center and a food drive distribution site for those experiencing food insecurity.

Worried about the morale of their senior members stuck in strict quarantine, the Y staff started conducting phone call check-ins every day in order to provide socialization, and even picked up and delivered their groceries.

“We knew that people were struggling, and we were struggling,” Evans said. “We weren’t sure what this meant for us, but we have always considered ourselves an anchor in this community – we’ve been here since 1891. We’ve been through World Wars, we’ve been through pandemics and we said look, ‘we’re going to survive this as well.’”

While the LEC program was a huge change from the normal day-to-day functions of the Y, the staff was seasoned and ready for it – having already pivoted during the summer months to run successful camp programs with no positive COVID-19 cases.

Summer camp counselors wear masks and take a group photo.
Summer camp counselors helped kids regain a sense of normalcy during the summer months.

The summer camp programs, which began in July, provided a sense of normalcy to children over the summer as they were able to participate in outdoor activities, socialize with other kids and participate in enrichment programs. The camps operated through similar safety protocols which included keeping children and counselors in the same pods to ensure minimal engagement with others and contact tracing, as well as wearing masks and staying outside.

Spin class outside
The YMCA of Montclair reopened fitness classes outdoors.

The Y locations also reopened for fitness and wellness classes through outdoor exercise classes and virtual personal training sessions – a pivotal moment for pre-diabetic members who need exercise in order to stay healthy, Evans noted.

Through guidance from the state government and the CDC, the Dolphins swim team also began practicing again and even competed in virtual meets.

“If there’s a need to serve in the community, we want to serve it,” Evans said.

To learn more about the Learning Enrichment Community program visit https://www.montclairymca.org/lec/