YMCA’s welcome lifeline

CLEARVIEW — As a single dad raising two children, Ken Oster was struggling to pay the costs of child care, which often hit $800 a month.

“Day care is like a vampire,” he said. “It sucks you dry. People who aren’t affected by it don’t understand what a huge dent it is, in addition to mortgage or rent.”

One day when dropping off his 9-year-old daughter, Kori, and his 7-year-old son, Caleb, he saw a sign for a YMCA after-school child care program at Maltby Elementary School.

“I came asking for help,” he said. “They said: ‘What can we do?’”

Oster learned that his children could be enrolled in after-school care for about half what he had been paying.

Reduced-price day care for struggling families is just one of the programs offered by the YMCA of Snohomish County.

The organization’s annual Invest in Youth fundraising campaign helps pay for this and other benefits, such as reduced-price YMCA memberships for families who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

This year’s goal of raising $1 million by March 11 is the biggest in the organization’s history, said Jerry Beavers, president and chief executive, topping last year’s goal by $143,000.

The fund helps pay for child care and after-school programs in which 1,582 children in Snohomish County were cared for last year, said Al Boren, vice president of planning and development for the YMCA of Snohomish County.

And 2,750 adults and children received reduced-price YMCA memberships, according to Colleen Temple, spokeswoman. Of those, 53.5 percent were for kids 18 and under.

A typical recipient is a single mom with two kids with an income under $30,000, she said.

Overall, more than 65,000 people in Snohomish County participated in YMCA programs last year.

All money donated at individual YMCA branches in Snohomish County will be kept there to be spent on programs and services, Boren said.

Oster, 47, a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, said that he is looking for construction work he can juggle with his parenting duties.

But parenting comes first, he said. “They’re my focus in my life.”

In addition to the child care, the family gets a discounted membership at the Monroe YMCA, allowing them to participate in swimming lessons, karate classes and other activities.

Oster said he looks forward to the time when he will be able to give back to the organization that has done so much for him and his family.

As someone who fought for his country, he said, it’s tough to scrape by and even harder to accept help from others.

“It’s a scary thing to know what your children need and not be able to supply it for them,” he said.

Not only do his children look forward to participating in the after-school activities provided by the Y’s child care program, it provides peace of mind, Oster said.

“Their day care program is amazing. It’s a place I can drop off my children and I don’t have to worry about what’s happening.

“I don’t know what I would do without them.”

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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