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Sanibel Recreation Center offered free childcare last week

By Staff | Sep 27, 2017

Zumba instructor Glenn does the moves with the youngsters at the Sanibel Recreation Center. MEGHAN MCCOY

The Sanibel Recreation Center opened its doors Monday, Sept. 18, to offer free childcare for youth kindergarten through eighth grade while the Lee County School District remained closed for another week in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

The Sanibel Recreation Center reopened at 7:30 a.m. offering the childcare program.

“Since it was a free program and they did not have to preregister, although we highly encouraged it, we were not sure of how many kids we were going to have. Yesterday, was childcare only from 7:30 to 5:30, so we knew what we had. Yesterday (Monday, Sept. 18) we had 104 kids. In our summer camps we have had as many 140 kids, so we knew that was manageable and still have normal operations,” Recreation Director Andrea Miller said.

The free childcare was offered through Friday.

“Once Lee County schools announced that they were not reopening until Sept. 25, obviously there was a need in the community because most parents are going back to work, or trying to go back to work, or trying to do clean up around their own homes from storm damage. We wanted to offer that to the community as an option for a place for their kids to come,” Miller said.

In addition, it also offered children some down time after living through a stressful event before and during the storm, and then being cooped up after the storm without any power.

“We wanted to give the kids an opportunity to be back with their friends and gain some normalcy and get some energy out and go swimming, play gym games and do some arts and crafts,” Miller said. “We have received a lot of positive feedback from the parents. (They are) thankful for this being open to the community, so they can get back to work.”

The first day of the free childcare gave the students the opportunity to go swimming in the pool and watch a movie in the afternoon.

The weeklong activities included a kid zumba dance party every morning, arts and crafts, games in the gym and game room, time on the playground and in the pool, as well as a movie in the afternoon.

Last Friday, F.I.S.H. of Sanibel-Captiva, Inc. offered to buy a pizza lunch for all the campers.

“As of right now, all the kids are responsible to have their own lunch, but Friday is going to be free pizza Friday for all the campers. It’s great for F.I.S.H. to come and offer to do all of that for the kids,” Miller said.

Youth, ages kindergarten through 8th grade, had the opportunity to register for the camp throughout last week.

Due to the last minute decision of offering the free childcare, Miller said whoever picked up the child had to show photo identification.

“When we run our summer camp, or our after school care, we have a finger print recognition system, so we use that for sign-in and sign-out. The person who places their fingers on there for the scan, their photo pops up and they have to be linked to that child in order for us to call, or release them,” she said.

About 45 percent of the children who used the free childcare program had never been in the Sanibel Recreation Center’s program before, which is why a photo ID was needed.

Aftermath of Hurricane Irma

Wednesday, Sept. 13, the Sanibel Recreation Center opened its doors as a cooling, showering and charging station from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Thursday morning, Sept. 14, Miller said they made the decision to open the Sanibel Recreation Center as a 24/7 operation where people could sleep.

“The most people we had over night was nine people and two pets,” she said. “The most people we had here showering and cooling on any given day was 65 people. It was pretty constant. When we were opened during the day people were coming in, usually a rush in the morning for showers and again in the evening after people had been working all day. People were here during the majority of the day with their computers plugged in and charging. Just a cool place to stay. We had cards and board games set up for people. We had some families that came with kids. We had TVs with DVDs and they popped in a movie.”

The center remained opened as a 24/7 operation Thursday, Friday and Saturday before closing at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17.

Tuesday, Sept. 19, the Sanibel Recreation Center reopened under normal operations.

Center 4 Life was also opened as a cooling and charging station 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept, 13, through Friday, Sept. 15, before opening for normal business hours Monday, Sept. 18. photo ID was needed.