YMCA of Grays Harbor Learning Center now open

Center will provide affordable, high-quality child care options to the community

For many families, finding reliable child care can be a difficult hurdle to overcome. While some parents get the benefit of having a work schedule that coincides with their child’s school schedule, other parents don’t have that luxury and especially so when their kids are below kindergarten age.

However, one inner Harbor organization is looking to combat local child care struggles in time for the start of the school year.

The YMCA of Grays Harbor Learning Center hosted an event on Tuesday, Sept. 6, for community members to tour the new facility following licensing approval. The Learning Center will provide a wide variety of resources for lifelong learning and professional development.

Franzine Potts, who serves as the YMCA of Grays Harbor CEO, said being committed to early learning readiness has been a focal point since 2008, and she is excited that the Learning Center is just days away from being operational.

“I want to thank Dannielle (Oliver), who is holding the giant scissors, for leading this project for us to be licensed as well as all the people behind me who have been part of the project from day one,” said Potts before the ceremonial ribbon cutting.

Potts pointed out the contributions of the Grays Harbor Community Foundation for facility funding, as well as Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay and other city board members for their assistance in receiving funding from the state capital budget.

The Learning Center, which used to be Crown Drug before YMCA purchased the building in 2020, received a total of more than $2.05 million in secured funding to renovate and provide supplies with the help of multiple grants and private donors.

Following the ribbon cutting, attendees were given a tour of the facility to see what will be available to the kids receiving childcare. According to Potts, the Learning Center is licensed to provide childcare for 72 kids with the expectation to be licensed for 80 kids by February 2023. She also noted that building was designed to prioritize safety.

“Everything we have in here is designed for a line of sight, so the kids can be seen everywhere that they are, and not be alone with a staffer, and any other child-on-child type of abuse,” Potts explained. “So, although it might look a little weird at first, it’s all very, very intentional in the way we are trying to make a safe environment.”

From a full-service kitchen to a staff office for teachers to operate from, perhaps the most anticipated part of the Learning Center is the playground. Although it is not set to be finished until the end of the year, the nearly 1,500-square-foot playground is designed for children to enjoy year-round with a capacity for 80 users. The playground, which was funded from a $40,000 donation by the Goldberg Family Charitable Foundation, will feature built-in games, slides, educational plaques and turf ground.

The Learning Center will have two main goals moving forward. While the first goal is to prepare kids for kindergarten, the other is to help spur economic development by providing affordable, high-quality child care options so community members can maintain long-term employment without having to worry about picking between work and their child’s needs.

Jessica Hoover, a Senior Program Officer for Grays Harbor Community Foundation, said successful pilot programs for new off-site preschools in Pacific Beach School District and Oakville School District led to discussions to have the Learning Center for kids in the inner Harbor region.

“The Community Foundation is really committed to early learning and essentially, we want to create more opportunities for every kid in Grays Harbor to have access to preschool and early learning,” Hoover said. “The YMCA has such a good foundation for building for the future, so it was a natural fit.”

The facility is licensed for child care from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday — meaning families looking for before-school care, preschool during the day, and after-school care will have the YMCA as an option. The Learning Center has started operations as of Monday, Sept. 12.