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April 07, 2016

YMCA Celebrates 26 Years of Learning, Caring

Child Care

Success may be measured in many ways, but when it comes to guiding and serving a community’s most precious resource, the YMCA has succeeded for 26 years and counting.

On Jan. 1, 1990, in classrooms in the Reformed Church of Metuchen, across the street from the YMCA, a few staff members and a group of toddlers helped launch what would become a string of well-respected child care centers run by the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, South Amboy and Woodbridge.

Rose Cushing, who was the director of the first fledgling childcare center run by the Y in Metuchen, now heads the entire regional YMCA as its first female president and chief executive director.

The childcare program boasts 11 early childhood centers across eastern Middlesex County, while the Y also has programs for children from 6 weeks old through high school throughout the towns it serves.  The Y, with 998 children enrolled and 153 staff members, celebrates its 26th anniversary this year.

Cushing, known as “Miss Rose” to a generation of children,  attributed the success of the Y’s programs to longevity of staff and clientele, stability, and its neighborhood based centers with deep roots in the community.

Indeed, several staff members have been with the program since its inception, and some former students have graduated from college, married, and are now bringing their own children to the childcare programs.

Cushing, who has four grown children of her own, accepted the CEO position a bit reluctantly just a few months ago. But she was urged to take on the challenge since she has successfully steered the Y childcare program through its growth from the Metuchen-Edison Y to the Metuchen-Edison-Woodbridge-South Amboy organization.

“I don’t ever want a kid to not have access to quality child care. That is why we do our best to fund raise each year,” Cushing said, adding that the Y offers scholarships of up to 50 percent of childcare cost for some families unable to meet the expense.

The Y has nearly met its fundraising goal of $190,000 this year.

“It has been a great ride. You have to know what you know. The business has changed. Family dynamics have changed. We deal now will millenials who want to know the value for their dollar. When we opened, we were just happy to get our kids into a safe, good program. Now, the market has flooded with daycare centers. In the early 2000s, child care became big business.”

“The demographic shift, dealing with a lot of different cultures, their needs are different. We are learning to adjust to our clients.”

Longevity of the system and staff and professionalism may be the keys to the success of the Y and its programs.

“Staff training, a supervision model, direct supervision of staff, certifications in first aid and CPR, and the longevity of the staff are among the reasons people stay with us,” Cushing said.

The Y urges community involvement and has adopted a park. The Y also owns buses that provide transportation from some schools for aftercare and for trips. In addition, the Y childcare programs provide swimming lessons with the curriculum. The organization is also considering creating a full-time kindergarten at its Metuchen location.

Stop & Shop supermarket has awarded a large grant to the organization, which funds community gardens in most of the child care center locations. The vegetables are eaten by children in the programs, and sent home with families who need them, Cushing said.

Among the long-time employees at the center is Rita Weiss, who still shepherds three-year olds in the toddler room at the Metuchen location. She has been in the position for 25 and half years. “I like the kids. When Rose first hired me she made me promise I would stay for at least a year.”

The children and close-knit staff have indeed buoyed Miss Rita through tough times. Her husband of 45 years suffered a heart attack and then a year later died of cancer. “They have helped me – the kids, the staff. The families are very supportive. The kids kept me going when my husband was sick. The kids keep me going now. I am glad I am here. I will stay as long as I can.”

As she has since she began the job, Weiss plans trips for the toddlers to the Metuchen Library and to senior citizen centers each month.

Her own two children were young when she started and she now has two grandchildren.

Tina Huber, assistant director of the Metuchen location and teacher in the toddler room, embodies the Y’s slogan – “Where learning never stops.” Huber started working at the center when she was just 16 years old, before she even had a driver’s license. She now is back at work on her college degree. She will celebrate her 44th birthday on Easter.

“I have been here since day one. I found my niche. I love children. It is my second home. It made me a better person and a better mom.  I learned to be creative.”

Huber has four children of her own who attended the Y childcare while she worked there. “It was so convenient to be here with my children. Children are my life.”

More recent employees also like where they are. Melissa Mercado, assistant teacher for a little over a year, said, “I love being with the babies.”

Christine Scarilla, almost 11 years at Edgar, said, “I love it.” She has been the head teacher in the infant room since 2007.

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