Desiree LeBourdais rearranges the play things in her toddler classroom Friday at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley. Staffers were preparing for the Monday opening there of a childcare service for a small number of children of essential workers that have to keep going to work during the coronavirus pandemic. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

While many childcare centers across the state have closed this month to try to stop the spread of coronavirus, one is opening its doors again Monday.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley is providing childcare for 35 children of essential workers in urgent need of the help.

“Having no childcare puts a terrible strain on our families and on our companies,” Ingrid Stanchfield, chief executive officer of the Gardiner-based club, said.

The O’Donnell family in Gardiner is one of those families.

Jaclyn O’Donnell is a licensed practical nurse who works for one of MaineGeneral Healthcare’s two long-term care facilities. She and her husband have three children, ages 9, 7 and 2, and are hosting 16-year-old Polish exchange student.

“On Facebook, people have been saying the Boys & Girls Club should remain closed and people should rely on family,” O’Donnell, whose family moved to central Maine five years ago, said. “The Boys & Girls Club is my family.”

MaineGeneral has the Children’s Center of Augusta, which re-opened its childcare on Monday in conjunction with MaineGeneral Healthcare and the state Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Maine Center for Disease Control, in providing childcare services for essential workers. That was noted by Gov. Janet Mills during her news conference Tuesday afternoon.

MaineGeneral has also organized essential childcare in partnership with the Kennebec Valley YMCA  in Augusta, the Alfond Youth and Community Center in Waterville and MaineGeneral’s Early Learning Center to provide care free of charge to its employees who have said they need a place for their children.

And now, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley is also opening its doors to the children of essential workers like O’Donnell.

While her children have gone to the Augusta YMCA, O’Donnell is happy to be able to send her youngest, Althea, back to the Boys & Girls Clubs, where the toddler had been cared for and knows the staff.

“She does so well there,” she said. “The staff knows her so well, she feels like they are her aunts and uncles.”

While her husband, a state employee, can work from home with the older children, watching a toddler has been harder, O’Donnell said.

“He’s fantastic with them doing their packets (of school work),” she said, “but he can’t do everything.”

Unlike other workers, O’Donnell said, she doesn’t have the option to stay home because of the staffing requirements of long-term dementia care. But in addition to her work, she’s also pursuing a degree in nursing, for which she has clinicals, during which she’s essentially working in a health care facility as a nurse. That, O’Donnell said, has doubled her stress.

Both the Boys & Girls Clubs and the Children’s Center had closed their facilities two weeks ago when government and public health officials began recommending limits on public gatherings and that people isolate themselves at home to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

Since then, federal, state and local officials have declared states of emergency and have invoked additional authority to shutter businesses and restrict access to public buildings and recreation areas. The declarations have also detailed which activities, like health care, are deemed essential.

As of Friday, when the state reported its first coronavirus-related death of a man in his 80s, the Maine Center for Disease Control reported 168 cases in 11 counties. While the agency’s data also includes data on the increasing number of people — 24 — who have recovered and have been released from isolation, the number of new confirmed cases is far outstripping that.

“Childcare is essential for essential workers,” Jeff Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Center, said.

Johnson said MaineGeneral has staff at the Children’s Center throughout the day, as workers care for about 50 children. Children and staff undergo daily screening before they enter the facility, which includes both having their temperatures taken and answering a series of questions.

“It’s going very well,” Johnson said of the daily protocol. “I mean, all of it is lousy and the whole situation is horrible.”

For Peter Prescott, a board member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley, the decision to open for essential childcare at a board meeting on Thursday was easy.

“We have to take care of our essential workers,” Prescott, chairman of Everett J. Prescott Inc. in Gardiner, said.

Desiree LeBourdais rearranges the play things in her toddler classroom Friday at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley. Staffers were preparing for the Monday opening there of a childcare service for a small number of children of essential workers that have to keep going to work during the coronavirus pandemic. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Volunteers spent Friday deep cleaning and sanitizing the Boys & Girls Club building as staff members worked out the best way for parents, children and staff to access the building.

Like the Children’s Center, the Boys & Girls Club will follow a screening protocol and follow the CDC childcare facility requirements for cleaning and sanitation.

“If we do get a case here, the CDC mandates we close for 14 days,” she said.

Johnson said as the number of confirmed cases increases in the state, he expects the demand for childcare for health care staff will also increase.

“Today, we’re in pretty good shape,” Johnson said. “That may change two weeks from now if everything gets turned upside down.”

MaineGeneral has also collaborated with the YMCAs in Waterville and Augusta for essential childcare, and that’s were all three of O’Donnell’s children had been going.

O’Donnell said while Althea will be at the Boys & Girls Clubs in Gardiner, her two older children will continue at the Augusta YMCA twice a week.

Initially, Stanchfield said, childcare is being offered only for 35 children. It’s possible that may expand at some point.

“Our mission is to serve those who need us most,” Stanchfield said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.