The YMCA is more than a family fitness center. Some days, it is a child-care service.
Three Fridays and one Saturday a month, parents can let their children loose while they run errands, go on dates or just relax alone for a few hours.
Parents night out, lock-ins and Saturday escape are three of the programs offered to civilians and, for a discounted price, to military families. Freedom Fridays are free to military families.
“[We do it] so they can go out and have a date or have some quiet time,” YMCA Family Program Supervisor Corey Conner said. “For both married couples and single parents, it’s important to have a night out because we are ever- changing ... We sometimes need to be reacquainted with our loved ones, or even with ourselves. We may also just need some time to be alone.”
Conner said many of the parents who take advantage of the services are military members; some are soldiers who have just returned from deployments and want to enjoy quality time with their spouses.
“Being a military spouse myself, it is nice to have that piece of mind that your child is safe,” Conner said of the security of the program.
All employees are required to submit to background checks to ensure the children’s safety, the supervisor said.
The number of employees staffing the special programs varies depending on how many children enrolled for the evening, but there are always staff members on duty who are CPR- and first-aid certified.
During parents night out, which is the first Friday of every month, parents may drop off their children ages 6 weeks to 12 years for an evening of swimming and pizza from 5-10 p.m.
CiCi’s Pizza provides pizza to the YMCA at a discounted rate of $5 for children ages 5 and older. Parents also may pack a meal for their child. Parents with children younger than 5 are asked to pack a special dinner to avoid the choking hazards pizza might pose.
For all events, the first 45 minutes is spent playing games, coloring and having the children interact with one another. Children ages 5 and older swim during the second hour while the younger children make crafts and play interactive games.
Next up is an age-appropriate movie, which the children watch while eating dinner. Following after-dinner crafts, older children play games or run around the gym until parents arrive for pick-up.
The YMCA has hosted the programs for the past five years. Freedom Friday is a little under a year old, Conner said.
Parents are encouraged to call and register children at the beginning of the month as spots fill up quickly. On a typical parents night out/Saturday night, as many as 100 children participate, and for freedom Fridays, 90-125 children are accepted. Lock-ins require 20 participants. The overnight event goes from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. the next morning and is open to children ages 5-12 years.
“Children need a break from their parents too,” Conner said. “It’s nice for them to look forward to seeing friends that they may not go to school with or otherwise not have had the chance to meet. Children have made long lasting friendship through their weekends at the Y.”
In addition to youth programs, the Y offers free use of its facilities for military parties, gatherings and other social events, Conner said. The center offers tug-of-war, flag football and all equipment along with free child care throughout any military-sponsored event.
To keep the military programs free for the center, the Atlanta Braves provide a large part of the funding for events hosted for Fort Stewart soldiers and their families.
“We basically wear them out and their parents come pick them up,” Conner said of the programs.
Sometimes she has just as much fun as the children she is watching.
“I have watched some of these children grow up before my eyes,” Conner said. “I also enjoy seeing the parents that are truly thankful for our programs.”