WINSTON-SALEM — The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust awarded a grant to the YMCA of Western North Carolina to increase access to high-quality after-school childcare and activities for youth and their families in McDowell County. This investment is part of the Trust’s long-term Healthy Places NC initiative, which announced a series of grants awarded to local organizations.

The $535,649 grant will go toward creating health and wellness hubs at each of McDowell County’s elementary schools over the next three years. Currently many families in McDowell County struggle to access after-hours childcare services – particularly after the end of the work day, and on the weekends – which are especially needed by shift-work employees. The programs and activities will take place during hours that benefit parents and employers and will provide healthy meals, tutoring, literary workshops, and childcare.

“This program is a great opportunity to tie together current health and wellness initiatives happening in our community with services the community needs. The program provides us with an audience, and allows us to give youth and families what they need: direct access to childcare services,” said Meghan Merritt, executive director of Corpening Memorial YMCA in Marion. “The ability to design a community hub is really exciting. Thanks to the Trust, we are able to expand and promote a care model that will make a difference in the lives of vulnerable families in this community.”

Planning for the project began last year when community organizations noticed parents had a difficult time getting to and picking their children up from childcare. The YMCA decided to partner with the McDowell County Health Coalition to research how to provide wraparound services for families when childcare isn’t early or late enough. The Health Coalition learned from employers and stakeholders in the community that the number one barrier to retaining employees was inadequate childcare options, both logistically and in terms of affordability.

“I spoke with a lot of employers and employees about their childcare needs,” said Nick Byrd, employee health adviser for the McDowell County Health Coalition. “A lot of people in our community work either weekends or the 6 AM to 6 PM shift, which can prove difficult when trying to find affordable childcare options. Luckily, the YMCA has stepped up and will be providing flexible childcare and a comprehensive after-school curriculum at these accessible hubs across McDowell County. As a result, we hope to provide our kids a safe and trustworthy environment to learn and play, making it possible for parents to work with one less worry on their mind.”

The program will reach nearly 2,000 elementary school students and their families in McDowell County, and aims to increase partnerships throughout the entire community. In addition to increasing access to high-quality childcare, a goal of the program is to increase workplace wellness for employees, as it will allow for more convenient childcare services for working families.

“Helping families’ live healthier lives is about more than just access to health care. A major piece of the Trust’s Healthy Places NC work is looking at factors beyond a doctor’s visit that impact a person’s well-being. Supporting childcare that meets working parents’ needs is just one piece of our mission to ensure equitable access to quality health care, economic opportunities and educational attainment in the communities we serve,” said Laura Gerald, president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. “The childcare hubs created by the Y will build community and regional capacity for continued health improvement and will ultimately allow community members to lead healthier lives.”

McDowell County joined the Healthy Places NC initiative in May 2012. The Trust plans to invest $100 million in 10 to 12 rural counties over a 10-year period. To date, the Trust has invited seven counties—McDowell, Beaufort, Burke, Halifax, Rockingham, Edgecombe and Nash Counties—to participate and will announce additional counties in the coming years. In each county, Healthy Places NC work and projects are driven by the community’s concerns, and the Trust works in partnership with residents toward sustainable, long-term change.