It starts at 7:30 weekday mornings. A caravan of cars, trucks and SUVs of every make, model, size, and color do a slow roll up to Chase Oaks Church. Passenger doors fly open and emerging kids are greeted by a masked counselor with an infrared thermometer and an amazing attitude.
“Good morning, how are you? Are you ready to see your friends and have some fun?”
Small face masks scrunch up as the kids smile. They get a quick temperature check, give mom or a dad a wave, and head into the church. They’re part of the YMCA’s summer camp program, a place where they stay for the day and parents head off to work, where many are frontline healthcare workers.
Siprina Merino, a radiology technologist, works with COVID patients daily. She’d just dropped off her son when we approached her car and did the international mime for “please roll down your window.” She hesitated, checked her mask for gaps and opened her car window halfway. What’s it been like for her?
“It’s really scary, but I need my job, I have to work,” she said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my job if I didn’t have the YMCA and the church this whole time, six months. I feel safe with him being here.”
Knowing her son is at church eases her mind because, “Their morals and values are on the same page as mine.” The Chase Oaks-YMCA partnership that helped her out was born from nerve-wracking times.
Earlier this year when COVID-19 numbers began to rise in the U.S., Chase Oaks leaders faced tough decisions. After much deliberation and countless prayers, in-person services were put on hold. Restart date: to be determined. Tremendous resources and energy were poured into online services and that resulted in an astounding growth in viewers around the globe.
The pause in on-site gatherings left buildings empty, collecting dust, which served no one. A call from a Chase Oaker who is also a board member with the Richardson YMCA changed that. YMCAs across the country had closed, but Richardson YMCA CEO Curt Hazelbaker knew the community needed help now more than ever.
“We started hearing there’s first responders, people on the front lines that had to go to work,” he said. “They needed to care for their children and we quickly shifted to provide childcare for the families that needed it.”
Chase Oaks offered its Sloan Creek and Legacy campuses as locations where the Y could offer childcare. Then many folks at the church did what they always do and gave generously. Jodi Newman, Executive Director of YMCA School Age Services, said this was crucial.
“Chase Oaks stepped up to the plate and not only did they provide an initial gift of $100,000 to cover staffing and costs for the childcare locations, but they also scholarshipped over $62,000 worth of childcare for essential workers.”
Assistance wasn’t limited to childcare.
COVID-19 brought about other “never before…” events too. Daily infection statistics, shelter-in-place orders, brick-and-mortar schools closed, and online education became the norm. Parents like Laura Rodriguez scrambled to figure out how to educate kids with antiquated technology, or none at all. Using a laptop nearly a decade old, her sons, Eduardo, 9, and Carlos, 17, did schoolwork in shifts.
“They were on the computer from early in the morning to late at night,” she said. “Carlos is taking mechanical engineering courses and they required a lot of downloads.”
To help out, the YMCA introduced someone else to Chase Oaks. Houston-based nonprofit Comp-U-Dopt takes retired computers and repairs and refurbishes them to give to those in need. The Chase Oaks Family Center received and distributed 25 of the refurbished units.
The Rodiriguez family was chosen by lottery to receive one. “This was a blessing,” Laura said. “This is what Carlos needed for his engineering classes.” Her oldest son said the difference floored him.
“Having one laptop was very hard, completing some tasks took an entire day. Now they’re completed in a matter of hours. This is the best gift of the year!”
It seems odd that two Christian organizations like Chase Oaks and the YMCA haven’t worked together this extensively before, but each was helping in its own niche. Now it’s clear this young partnership isn’t over once summer ends.
“This isn’t a one and done,” Curt Hazelbaker said. “Our organizations are willing to work together to make more of an impact. There are needs out there.”
Needs that Chase Oaks and the YMCA will do their best to fulfill.
To learn more about the YMCA and Chase Oaks partnership, click here.