Plant City Observer

YMCA adapting after COVID-19 closure

As of this week, the Plant City Family YMCA and the rest of the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA network planned to close until May 8 as a safety precaution. But don’t look at the empty parking lot and pool areas and think nothing’s happening.

In the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the staff of the Plant City Y is still working to bring its services to the community. It’s just doing things differently.

“Normal daily operations are closed for the time being, so this is something we can do for the time being to fill that void and keep everybody working to serve the community as best they can,” Executive Director Paul Conley said.

Though Conley said current programming is “hurting” — not a surprise considering the facility had to close — the Y has moved as many of its programs to the Internet as it could. 

On a larger scale, the Tampa Metropolitan network website has uploaded numerous workout videos to its website, tampaymca.org/tampa-y-member-resources, for members to use while the gyms are closed. The website will be updated with new content daily, Conley said. On a more local scale, the Plant City Y staff is putting together a kind of virtual toolbox for kids to use to both stay fit and keep their sports skills sharp while at home. On Tuesday, for example, the Y started to put together a video where program director Ally Larese teaches fundamental soccer drills kids can do at home. Whether it’s on dry land or in the pool, the Plant City Y staff wants to keep kids ready to go for the upcoming summer sports seasons.

“I think this is going to give us an opportunity to be innovative,” Conley said.

The one thing the Plant City Y and others in the Tampa network are able to do on-site for the public is provide all-day child care for workers in fields like health care and emergency response “who are playing important roles combating the coronavirus,” the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA said in a press release. Now, for $50 a week, children can be enrolled in a program similar to the Y’s existing day camp, but with a greater focus on education to help replace what was lost when schools closed. Conley said the program has a greater focus on STEM programming than the day camp, which consists of more athletic and outdoor activities. Kids in the program will also get free breakfast and lunch thanks to a partnership with Hillsborough County.

Financial aid is available for the program, though the Tampa Y said no child will be turned away because of an inability to pay. Qualified employees can register online at tampaymca.org/relief-care.

“We want to do everything we can to keep those folks working,” Conley said. “We’re doing what we can do right now to best serve the community.”

Conley said the Y is still planning to move forward with its summer programming as usual. The Plant City Y’s summer camp is still scheduled to begin June 8 and its summer sports are also expected to start on time with no hiccups, assuming nothing drastically changes and the Y can re-open in early May as planned.

“We anticipate, at this time, running a really exciting summer camp,” Conley said. “We’re planning a full summer camp and to run operations as we were, hopefully even at a higher level than we were when this started. Right now, we’re working on how to improve our programming.”

Still, even with an upbeat attitude and approach to the COVID-19 problem, the Y needs the community’s support to keep going. No full-time staff members have been laid off and the part-time staff members will be able to return to their jobs once the facility reopens and operational needs arise again. But the Y is asking members and the community for any support they can give.

“The Y is trying to do the best we can as a non-profit charitable organization,” Conley said. “The support our members and the community can show at this time, whether it’s continuing their membership so we can continue offering services to parents… when we do open back, up, we can be as strong as we’ve ever been. Charitable giving is more needed now than probably ever before at the Plant City Y. It’ll allow us to progress as an organization.”

UPDATE 1:25 p.m. March 26: The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA originally charged $125 per week for child care for essential workers, but the Plant City Family YMCA announced Thursday it will only charge $50 per week starting March 30. Call 813-757-6677 for more information.