As schools closed mid-March to transition to online learning in accordance with the statewide measures aimed to slow the spread of COVID-19, local resident Bonnie Botero eyed with alarm as her friends and neighbors began preparing home offices to work remote while their children learned close by.
Day care facilities had closed in cascading unison, including that of her 6-year-old son’s after-school care facility. Botero, who is considered an essential worker, was left scrambling as to how to care for her active boy while she worked shifts of up to 12 hours per day. Her husband, while working from home, had to be plugged into his computer for hours on end in order to keep his employment.
The couple took all the vacation and personal leave they could to try to cover the gaps, but it wasn’t close to enough, and the parents felt they were failing miserably: “He would wake up crying, he was having panic attacks … we were trying to supplement activities during the day but it just wasn’t enough. He was just on his own.”
Nearly six weeks in and struggling every day, Botero learned through a friend that Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley was open for families who have no other options for child care and must report to work. At first she was hesitant about the safety and health aspects, but the nonprofit organization’s staff walked her through all of their social distancing and cleaning protocol put in place to keep children and employees healthy.
She signed young Vincent up, and it’s been the best thing that’s happened since the pandemic hit, she said.
“He’s having an absolute blast, he just loves it. He’s waking up early and excited in the morning and he’s happy when he comes home. It’s just been a blessing,” said Botero, who works in administrative support for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Although Botero pays a fee for childcare, the nonprofit also offers free and discounted rates to those who cannot afford it.
“We never turn anybody away from the inability to pay,” said club CEO Shanna Warren.
Typically, the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley serves 4,000 children per year across seven cities and 23 locations, but as many of their sites are located at the schools to provide after-school care, the nonprofit had to close every site except the main clubhouse, located at N. Buena Vista Street.
Even that location wouldn’t have stayed open if it hadn’t been for the ability to pivot operations quickly with support of the nonprofit’s board of directors and commitment from staff members, Warren said.
“When everything started closing and we went down from 23 sites to one, we weren’t sure we’d be able to stay open,” said Warren, who scrambled to try and understand the convoluted messages and protocol being suggested by state and county officials.
“We knew there was going to be a huge need. We have several large medical facilities near us, and when they began to talk about essential workers, my mind immediately went to all the employees who support those essential workers, like the housemaids, gardeners or janitorial or food service staff, who maybe aren’t considered essential but they are still expected to show up for work or they might lose their jobs,” she continued. “I immediately became worried for the children of those parents who might be faced with having to leave their child all alone and in unsafe conditions, or risk losing their job.”
Her board agreed, she said, and they shut down the facility for one week to do a deep cleaning and create a system where they could safely provide day care and enforce social distancing. The team created “pods” of children, with a student-staff ratio of 10-to-1 or less, who operate in separate rooms at tables several feet apart. All the staff wear masks and gloves, and consistently take temperature checks and hourly breaks to wash hands and disinfect tables.
“It’s a lot of cleaning and sanitizing and constant reminders to the children to stay apart … We tell them ‘Make airplane arms!’ and remind them about 100 times a day,” she noted, laughing, “But it works.”
As the state begins taking slow steps to move forward and reopen, Warren anticipates even more families will begin needing similar day care options, and she is willing to help other care sites learn about how to safely operate.
“It’s very expensive to operate this way, but we are trying to show other centers and nonprofits that it is manageable — there are a lot of steps but once you get a schedule going it’s just repetition,” she said, adding that it’s been well worth it to know how much the club is helping families in need.
“It really feels that now, more than ever, we are fulfilling our mission.”
To learn more about the local Boys & Girls Club, visit: