CENTRAL FALLS — Busy working parents received an unwelcome letter recently from the YWCA Greater Rhode Island notifying them that the child care center at 43 Hawes Street is shutting down.
The fact that the YWCA Learning Center's last day is August 26 took many parents by surprise, and prompted several phone calls to The Times. While wishing to remain anonymous, the parents complained about the late notice and expressed frustration about the loss of yet another option for child care, and youngsters in general, in the cash-strapped city.
In the wake of the letter that was sent out on Friday, the YWCA's Board of Directors held an informational meeting for parents on Monday night at the YWCA Learning Center. A photographer for The Times who showed up at the meeting was told that it was private by a board member and was asked to leave after he had taken a few photos.
Johanna Leclair, president of the YWCA's Board of Directors, told The Times on Tuesday that the decision to close the Learning Center was due to the YWCA's “inability to sustain the program.” She said that the facility has limited funding and the board had applied for several operational grants, but there was not enough resources to keep the program going. “We have turned over every stone,” she said.
Leclair blamed the Learning Center's financial woes on “the whole economic downside in Central Falls,” although she conceded that the YWCA of Greater Rhode Island does not receive any funding from the city. She reiterated that the general economic downturn of the city had hurt the funding situation.
Leclair said that at the Monday night meeting, the board explained the situation to parents and provided some options. As to child care, she said the Family YMCA of Pawtucket, located at 20 Summer St., is the only nearby facility that can handle the extra capacity. She said that the Pawtucket YMCA has agreed to accept all of the families from the Learning Center as well as its staff. She estimated that 40 to 50 children are affected by the Learning Center's closure.
“This is a decision that the board has not taken lightly at all,” Leclair stated. “I know families are upset, but we have tried to make this as smooth as possible.”
Leclair said the YWCA Greater Rhode Island's two other facilities on Broad Street, one a Victorian-style residence that provides transitional housing services for women, and another a carriage house with unspecified use, will remain open. She said the YWCA will continue to provide transitional housing services and community healthcare outreach in partnership with the YWCA Northern Rhode Island, which is located at 514 Blackstone St. in Woonsocket.
“It's unfortunate that we can no longer provide child care, but we're excited about the possibilities with this new partnership for years to come,” she said.
Central Falls City Councilman James Diossa, who attended Monday night's meeting, said he thought the board's message to parents about the reason for the closure and the available alternatives was “not very clear.”
Diossa said he had been contacted over the weekend by several parents who told him they hadn't expected the Learning Center to close and were upset about what they felt was the short notice. He said he went to the meeting to voice some of the parents' concerns about what they would do to find alternative child care arrangements.
Diossa said that with the current economy, many parents have been forced to take on a second job to make ends meet, and a sudden loss of child care creates a serious problem. “First, our community center is closed and now here's another social service gone as well,” said Diossa. “They're closing almost all of the children's programs,” he stated.
Diossa added that the YWCA has been in Central Falls for over 100 years and it is the third oldest YWCA in the world. “The YWCA has a significant history in the city and it's sad to see it close. It impacts the kids,” he stated. “This was just about the last program we have here for children.”