BY LURAH LOWERY | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in a series about the United Way of Bristol, the agencies it funds and the people they help in the community. United Way is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign. This year’s goal is $1.425 million. For more information, go to www.unitedwaybristol.org or call 423-968-4912.

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Child care is a necessity to many so that they can work, attend school or both.
For Liz Morgan, of Bristol, Tennessee, the children’s center at YWCA was her saving grace.

“I am financially independent and it is so vital to what I’m doing now that Harper can come to day care,” Morgan said of her 2-year-old daughter. “I’m a full-time student at ETSU. I got into their honors program. If I didn’t have somewhere that I really loved to bring Harper, none of that would be possible. I would probably still just be waiting tables. I still do that on the weekends, but I wouldn’t be able to have the opportunities that I have now.”

Morgan is one of a number of people who are helped each year through agencies that receive much-needed funding from the United Way of Bristol, which is conducting its annual fundraising campaign.

Morgan has been taking Harper to the Bristol YWCA since she was 16 months old. She stays Monday through Friday while her parents work. The structure of the program, Morgan said, is exactly what she was looking for.

“I feel like she’s doing similar if not more engaging activities around other children than she would be doing at home,” she said. “There’s not a TV. They’re playing, they’re reading, they do arts and crafts. I think it’s so important to be creative and to teach kids how to make things. They do a lot of things that I would be doing with her at home, but she gets to hang out with all of her friends. She looks forward to coming.”

Socialization and intentional play is crucial to the development of children, said Mary Anne Gibson, YWCA Bristol director of licensed programs.“The things that we do in the classroom are intentional,” she said. “It’s intentional play. We play with them because that’s how children learn naturally.  Everything is set up to be developmentally appropriate for the children.”Although Morgan makes less than $12,000 a year, she believes that high-quality day care should not be compromised because of its cost.

Although Morgan makes less than $12,000 a year, she believes that high-quality day care should not be compromised because of its cost. “You shouldn’t have to worry about if the standards are being met or what’s happening with your child during the day because you don’t make a lot of money. That’s just not fair,” she said.“ There’s this perception of people that don’t make a lot of money like we’re not trying.

There is absolutely no way that I would be able to do the honors program curriculum if daycare wasn’t affordable. The YWCA offers sliding scale rates for child care that are based on yearly income. In order to qualify, the income must be less than $35,000. Affordable rates would not be possible if it weren’t for funding from the United Way of Bristol, Gibson said.“That allows us to offer reduced rates to families of all income levels,” she said. “In 2013, 80 percent of our families received assistance. They’re out there working and making a better life for themselves like Liz. She’s just a shining example of what families can do if they have the support and the assistance that they need.”

They’re out there working and making a better life for themselves like Liz. She’s just a shining example of what families can do if they have the support and the assistance that they need. In 2013, Gibson said, “95 percent of parents who left their children in the care of the YWCA children’s center were employed or enrolled in school.”

“This gives many families a start,” she said. “It’s so important I think for families to feel like they are contributing to the welfare of their families and this gives them that starting point. Many families make it and it just takes one thing to set them back.”The children’s center has been in operation for 27 years and was created by Gibson with the help of United Way. The average range of cost is $62 to $90 a week. It serves children six weeks of age to 5 years old.

At the center, children are provided breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack every day, which is included in the cost. The center is licensed to care for 84 children at a time, has seven classrooms and 20 staff members. It has also been rated a

At the center, children are provided breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack every day, which is included in the cost. The center is licensed to care for 84 children at a time, has seven classrooms and 20 staff members. It has also been rated a three-star day care, or top quality, every year since 2000.

“I think peace-of-mind means a lot to families,” Gibson said in reference to the day care’s quality of service. “Our program is in demand. Last year, we had 144 that went on our waiting list. I get calls all the time, every day. It’s so rewarding to know we’re making a difference and helping families get on the right track and get their education or work their way up to get that better job. I don’t even have words for how it makes me feel inside. I love it.”

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