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LINK Grinnell is working to provide childcare to Grinnell’s essential workers

Justin Hayworth
Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, LINK Grinnell — an organization formed in 2018 to provide supplemental childcare options — has stepped up to offer childcare to parents of essential workers.

“This has been in conjunction with the county emergency management and local emergency response,” said Chad Nath, Executive Director of LINK Grinnell. “We are working with them to coordinate these efforts, that would be the city and county. There’s a lot of people working together to ensure that this in place so that we have the workforce that we need.”

Even under normal circumstances, childcare in Grinnell can be hard to find. In 2018, First Children’s Finance funded a childcare needs-assessment for the city of Grinnell, a designated childcare desert. They found the largest childcare gap was for children aged 5-12 years old with a shortage of over 400 spaces. The second largest gap was for infants and toddlers with a shortage of approximately 100 spaces.

After the need for childcare was quantified in 2018, community members formed LINK Grinnell.

On March 20, LINK sent out surveys to employees at essential businesses regarding childcare needs. In total, employees filled out 96 surveys representing roughly 160 children. 40 percent of these identified children need childcare.

There are now seven satellite locations providing childcare: Davis Elementary, Bailey Elementary, Fairview Elementary, the Grinnell College Preschool, Harris Center, Saint John’s Church and the Grinnell Athletic and Recreation Center at Ahrens Park.

Additionally, LINK is coordinating with the Grinnell Early Learning Center. The Grinnell Early Learning Center is providing childcare to essential workers that were already clients prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The children are kept active and engaged in each location. The days are highly structured with work and activities relevant to various age levels. Activities include arts and crafts, games, active time for playing and time to read and do homework. LINK provides meals and snacks to the children as well.

All the childcare supervisors are supplied by LINK. The staff members were already employed prior to COVID-19 or were hired to work this summer but had availability now.

Each satellite location operates on a small scale with eight children and two caregivers at each site. “Using this flexible approach, the program can bring locations on-line on an ‘as-needed’ basis,” wrote Monica Chavez-Silva, Grinnell College assistant vice president for community enhancement, in an email to The S&B.

Safety is an utmost priority for the childcare locations. Each facility is locked so that only the childcare providers have access to the space. Childcare providers do multiple temperature checks with the children each day and are constantly wiping down and disinfecting surfaces.

In the worst-case scenario that a child tests positive for COVID 19, the facility would be shut down for three to five days to undergo thorough cleaning, according to Nath.

“We wanted to have enough facilities that we could be nimble enough to open up into another area,” said Nath.

There is no cost for the emergency childcare, but goodwill donations are encouraged if families are able to contribute. “We didn’t want them [essential workers] to be worrying about finances in this time when their work is so crucial to help with the health of our community,” said Nath.

Nath said he believes that the program has been successful due to the established support and partnership present in the Grinnell community.

“We’ve always been really collaborative; we exist from being collaborative. We have always had a good working relationship with Grinnell College, with Unity Point Health, Grinnell Regional Medical Center, the school system, Grinnell Mutual and obviously Grinnell Early Learning Center and many other employers throughout the community,” he said.

Chavez-Silva echoed Nath’s statement, again referencing the cooperation present in the community. “It’s always impressive to see how Grinnellians come together to solve problems. It’s a privilege to work with these amazing and dedicated leaders,” she wrote.

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