YMCA's Emergency Child Care Provides Sense of Normalcy Amid Uncertainty

By: Mollie Shauger | Monday, May 11, 2020 | Child Care

Malcolm and Andrej Milhorn dressed as superheroes outside Peanut Shell Early Childhood Learning Center.

For many families with parents who are essential workers during this pandemic, finding a sense of normalcy amid a flood of new and unpredictable challenges is comforting and reassuring. 

For Anastasia Kunac and Brian Milhorn, the YMCA’s Emergency Child Care program has been providing their sons Malcolm and Andrej with a sense of normalcy in a new and strange reality for young children - as well as adults. Both boys already attended the West Essex YMCA’s Peanut Shell Early Learning Center in Livingston, which closed in mid-March in response to the coronavirus, and has now converted to providing Emergency Child Care for essential workers. The Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges also provides full-time Emergency Child Care at its East Orange branch.

Both Kunac and Millhorn work in roles that are considered essential, balancing their shifts with caring for their boys, ages 4 and 5, at home. Like many other parents suddenly adapting to new routines, they were dealing with exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed, and facing what Kunac described as an “untenable” situation long-term. 

When Kunac found out that this child care option was available at Peanut Shell, which is close to their home, she was so relieved that she cried.

“It was the first good thing that happened in the month of April,” she admitted. “I’m grateful they have each other,” she said of her sons, “and are in a happy, safe environment.”

Kunac is a surgeon at University Hospital in Newark who’s been witnessing the escalation in cases of COVID-19 and the devastating effects first-hand. She’s spent the last six weeks treating trauma patients as well as critically ill patients in the ICU during her 12+-hour shifts. As the program director for the General Surgery Residency Program, she also oversees 83 residents in training. Milhorn works at Total Wine in West Orange performing many jobs as the demands have become greater and more challenging in his workplace as well.

When Kunac checked her email on April 28, she opened a “thank you” message from Peanut Shell staff with a picture of Malcolm and Andrej dressed as superheroes in honor of National Superhero Day. The short and simple note was a bright moment in a particularly dark day and after many days of COVID-19 related deaths. “I cannot tell you how relieved I am that Malcolm and Andrej are in a place (other than home) that is safe, familiar, and fun for them and in the company of other children,” she wrote back. 

Kunac said it’s been comforting to know that her kids are doing things like building obstacle courses, “playing family” with animal toys, reading, and engaging their imaginations. They were nervous at first to go back to Peanut Shell but have adjusted so well that they don’t want to leave at pick-up time. 

“It doesn’t matter what kind of essential worker or family you are...for your child to be able to go to a place where they are sincerely loved, cared for, and can thrive, brings a welcome sense of relief in these tough times," she said.



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