When it launched in 2018 with the goal of providing quality child care for low-income Ypsilanti families, only seven children were enrolled in The Collaborative: Ypsilanti YMCA Child Development Center. Today, the program at the former site of Chapelle Elementary, 111 S. Wallace Blvd. in Ypsilanti, is near capacity with 42 out of 48 available slots filled.
The program – a partnership between the Ann Arbor YMCA, Eastern Michigan University (EMU), Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS), and the Ypsilanti Housing Commission (YHC) – has seen so many successes that partners are looking to expand offerings in 2020.
Caroline Sanders, assistant director of community relations for Engage@EMU, notes that EMU has another high-quality daycare center on campus, but it's not affordable for many students.
"Because of the level of sponsorship the YMCA can offer, up to 80% of tuition, that cannot be matched (by other childcare centers)," Sanders says.
The Collaborative reserves 50% of its 48 available spots for children of EMU students, another 25% for YCS families, and the final 25% for children of those in the Family Empowerment program, a partnership between EMU and YHC.
The YMCA does not discriminate based on American citizenship, so international students who can't get financial aid can get a tuition break at the childcare collaborative. The first two pupils enrolled in The Collaborative were children of EMU international students.
Over the center's first 18 months of operation, the center has established a strong parent involvement team and parent advisory board. Staff have also begun to use an app called Kinderlime that allows parents and teachers to communicate about a child's progress in real time.
Donetta Mazyck is director of The Collaborative, but she also represents one of the center's success stories.
Mazyck was living in Hamilton Crossing, one of Ypsilanti's low-income housing complexes, and was in the Family Empowerment Program. Through the program, Mazyck was working on building up her savings in hopes of buying a house when she learned about The Collaborative.
Mazyck got a job at the child development center, and meanwhile she began to meet the goals she'd established for herself as part of the empowerment program.
"In six months, I managed to get my credit turned around and earned enough money to buy a house. I started working here as lead teacher, and about six months later, I was promoted to director," Mazyck says.
Now that The Collaborative has been up and running for a year and a half, staff felt it was time to expand services by offering a psychology clinic and piloting a program to offer evening hours.
The center is currently open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekdays, but the pilot program will add evening hours on Mondays and Tuesdays sometime this spring. Currently, pupils at the child development center must be between 18 months and 5 years old, but evening hours will accommodate children up to 10 years old.
"I can pretty much guarantee that's going to blow up, "Sanders says. "That's going to offer multiple blessings for families that have trouble finding child care after 6:00."
The extended hours will include reading sessions, homework help, and a hot meal for the children, with EMU student government kicking in funds to offset the cost of the meals. Staying open later also means that work-study students who need to get their hours in and don't want to lose their award have the option of working evening hours, Sanders says.
The Collaborative is also taking over another room at Chapelle to establish a psychology clinic staffed by a therapist from EMU. The therapist will have two main jobs: sitting in on classroom interactions and making suggestions to classroom staff about how to handle behavioral issues, and providing one-on-one or family counseling in a private setting for $10 a visit. Those visits are also open to the older siblings of the young children who are enrolled at The Collaborative.
"Having the clinic here removes barriers like transportation and (lack of) flexible hours, or even stigmas around mental health," says LeeAnna Massey, YMCA regional child development director. "And it's not a psychologist's office or a hospital. They're already coming here to pick up their child and they can come across the hall and meet with a therapist in a place where they already feel safe and comfortable."
Sanders says a psychologist's support is likely to help with staff retention as well.
"In terms of hiring people to come work here, it'll be attractive to them to understand they'll have additional support provided to the children and help make their jobs easier," Sanders says. "If they notice a child having screaming fits, now they have somebody coming in who can really help."
The center is also developing a program that would bring Washtenaw Community College in as a partner to provide a child development associate credential for workers who can both earn a paycheck and accumulate practicum hours at the same time.
"It's a stackable credential," Massey says. "They can roll those hours into an associate's and then into a bachelor's degree."
Sanders says the collaborative is meeting its original goal of providing high-quality, accessible childcare for families who "otherwise have to make less-than-ideal choices."
Massey points to the story of one of those parents, who had to be separated from her child while she put herself through school because she couldn't afford daycare.
"The child was living with her grandmother in Detroit, and because of this program, the mother was able to bring the child to live with her," Massey says. "These are the stories we hear about how we're making a difference."
More information about the child development center, including registration forms, is available here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.