Middlesex County 'Y' grew from one to 13 sites and cared for thousands of children
METUCHEN – For 25 years, Rita Weiss and Tina Huber have educated and entertained more than 1,000 children at the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge and South Amboy (MEWSA)'s first child care site — Edgar Early Learning Center.
This month, as the "Y" honors the "Month of the Young Child," it also marks the 25th anniversary of adding child care to the national organization's service roster.
In that time, the YMCA of MEWSA grew from one child care center to a dozen.
For longtime YMCA-MEWSA staff members like Weiss and Huber, they are now witnessing the children of the original children being enrolled. Katie McAdoo, director of Association Advancement at the YMCA of MEWSA, and Rose Cushing, YMCA president and CEO, said seeing the next generations' continued faith in the YMCA's work as well as the growth of the centers has been fulfilling.
"It is wonderful to have the pleasure of serving the children of children we served," Cushing said. "It is rewarding when we sit back and look at that impact. That in addition to allowing parents to work, those parents know their children are safe and stimulated."
"We are very proud of what started as one child care center has grown to programs in 12 communities," McAdoo said. "Nationally, child care is a pinnacle program of the YMCA and is essentially developed at a local level in response to community needs."
Neighborhood child care centers
Cushing and McAdoo said that all across the county, the child care program took on different forms.
"For us, locally in Metuchen and Edison, it began with a new branch director — Bill Lovett — coming on board in Metuchen in 1988," said Cushing, the former district executive director of child care services. "He was young and forward thinking and immediately looked at opening child care as part of our service area. What he started because of his enthusiasm and passion multiplied from one center to four to six to eight to currently we have 12."
A year after the first program began to resounding success, the YMCA continued to add about two more each year, until "it snowballed," McAdoo said. There are now 12 sites spread throughout Edison, Metuchen, Perth Amboy, Avenel, Colonia, Fords and South Amboy.
"Initially, the program reflected the communities. So, although our centers are "Y" based and "Y" branded, they are built on the basis of the model that Bill started — the neighborhood-based child care centers," McAdoo said. "For example, in South Edison, children live or parents work in that neighborhood. Collectively, the friendships the children form will move on with them to their elementary school years."
Bill Lovett, executive director for the NJ YMCA State Alliance, said that when he arrived at the YMCA of MEWSA in 1988, there was "a significant need in the community for quality preschool and infant child care."
"Over a period of years beginning in 1989, we opened a total of nine centers — six in partnership with area churches," he said. "I certainly look back with great pride at the sustainability of the centers and our church and municipal partnerships after all these years. We tried to have high quality with reasonable pricing plus financial aid for those in need. We really had to create the model for working with churches."
Lovett said that the YMCA has always been about the positive development of children.
"Research continues to show the importance of high-quality child care in a child's development and the YMCA of MEWSA, as Middlesex County's leading and largest provider, has had a remarkable impact on thousands of families," Lovett said.
While most of the child care is centered around those in need of early education, there are before- and after-school programs, McAdoo said. Some of these school-age programs emerged out of the "latch key" services that pre-date the formal child care initiative that started 25 years ago.
"All of that started to swell during the late '80s, which was when Bill Lovett came in and saw that need," McAdoo said.
Today, the 12 sites offer a mix of infant/toddler care, preschool and prekindergarten, part-day option programs, summer camps, summer learning programs, kindergarten extended day, before- and after-school care, part day early learning and school-age child care. At all the centers, all of the children age 3 and up also have swimming lessons.
"If the program is not branch-based, then we bus them to a YMCA for swim lessons weekly," McAdoo said. "That is included in the cost. It's for their physical exercise and safety that they learn how to swim."
Cared for thousands of children
Having impacted thousands of children in the 25 years, the "Y" child care centers currently service about 1,000 children in the early childhood education to the school-age programs each day.
"In our early education programs, we have about 460 children a day and in our school-age programs, more than 550," McAdoo said. "If I multiply that over 25 years … ."
Cushing, who spearheaded the development of the curriculum as well as goals and objectives, is proud of the growth of the programs and the professional growth of the staff. Currently, there are 150 staff in the early education programs and approximately 50 that work with the school-age population.
"We do have some staff that have been with us from the beginning," Cushing said. "It is also the staff that we celebrate."
Besides the 25-year tenures of Weiss and Huber at Edgar Early Learning Center in Metuchen, Our Savior's Learning Center in Edison has one senior child care worker who started working with the "Y" as a camp counselor in 1997 when she was a college student. She began her full-time career in "Y" child care in 2001. At Colonia Learning Center, Senior Child Care Director Cindy Shields started as a teacher in "Y" child care in 1993.
"We have seen such growth in our staff," Cushing said.
"This is especially important in the women's work force," McAdoo said. "These are women who found a niche in doing what is maternally natural for them in a professional way."
Trained and devoted staff
Besides seven of the 12 child care centers being certified National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) sites, the staff also undergoes training and a certification program.
"We do offer extensive YMCA-based training to enhance the experience children have and we also offer ongoing training through professional development days," McAdoo said. "In August, we shut down for a week and do workshops."
Cushing added that the staff is also encouraged to complete the Child Development Associates (CDA) certificate.
"We put them through a professional development experience that gives them a license to do what they do," Cushing said. "This allows someone who is a nondegree person to become a professional."
McAdoo said that often the YMCA of MEWSA offers financial assistance to those who cannot afford the cost of child care. Two of the sites in Perth Amboy are funded by the local Board of Education to introduce early childhood education to children in the district at no cost to the parents, but the rest have costs associated with them. Overall, Cushing said that about $65,000 is offered annually in internal financial assistance. McAdoo and Cushing said that this group is often known as the "working poor."
"There are families that fall in the gap," McAdoo said. "They are working and earning and making too much money for government assistance for quality child care but not enough to afford the full cost of child care. Quality child care. So, rather than them going to an unlicensed place or a quality subpar situation, we do offer financial assistance in all our centers.
"They are working and want what is best for their children and are caught in that crack, in that gap, in between what the government can hand out and what is truly the cost of service."
YMCA of MEWSA sites
- Our Savior’s Learning Center, 50 Calvert Ave. East, Edison, 732-548-0523
- Centenary Early Learning Center, 200 Hillside Ave., Metuchen, 732-548-5468
- Harborview Early Learning Center, 45 Market St., Perth Amboy, 732-442-7190
- Avenel Learning Center, 238 Avenel St., Avenel, 732-636-1100
- Ken Shirk Learning Center, 445 Old Post Road, Edison, 732-287-1131
- Edgar Early Learning Center, 150 Lake Ave., Metuchen, 732-632-8633
- Grace Early Learning Center, 600 New Brunswick Ave., Perth Amboy, 732-442-4199
- Colonia Learning Center, 400 Inman Ave., Colonia, 732-340-9622
- Edison YMCA, 1775 Oak Tree Road, Edison, 732-494-3232
- Metuchen YMCA, 65 High St., Metuchen, 732-548-2044
- South Amboy YMCA, 200 John T. O’Leary Blvd., South Amboy, 732-553-9622
- Fords Learning Programs, 500 Ford Ave., Fords, 732-346-9622
Staff Writer Cheryl Makin: 732-565-7256; firstname.lastname@example.org