Concerns about day care loom large in wake of YMCA closure announcement

When YMCA officials announced on Tuesday that local operations will cease as of May 15, they made sure to mention that day care is one of the services they are hoping to keep alive.

The Sault Ste. Marie YMCA offers 541 licensed day care spots across the city, with 140 of those spots being situated at the organization's recreation centre on 235 McNabb St.

But now that this building is up for sale, Danica Boissoneau doesn't know what that means for her 18-month-old daughter, who just got enrolled in the YMCA program at McNabb in February after years of applying to day care centres around town.

"It's only been a few short months, but she had adjusted well," Boissoneau told The Sault Star on Friday. "The hours are great, the location is great, the staff is amazing and now we're going to have to scramble to get (something else)."

Boissoneau said finding reliable day care is vital for her and her fiancé Glenn Flanagan, who hold down full-time jobs as a dental assistant and steel worker, respectively.

While these jobs pay well, Boissoneau said economic factors like inflation and the rising cost of living require both of them to stay working to provide a comfortable living for the family.

If the pair loses their spot at McNabb, and are not able to find an alternative day care service in the Sault, Boissoneau said she would be forced to look after her daughter at home, meaning the family would be reliant on a single source of income.

"And I don't know how we would make ends meet, honestly, and that's scary," she said.

"With one income we could maybe pay the bill, put food on the table and just scrape by, but that's not the quality of life that we want for ourselves or our family, that's for sure. And I know there are people who earn less and they would be in even a tighter space."

And given the years she waited to get her daughter into any day care service in the Sault, Boissoneau isn't too optimistic about finding alternate sources of child care if these McNabb Street spaces can't be salvaged.

"It's already been a struggle, prior to the announcement of the Y's potential closure, so it's just going to be exacerbated," she said.

"This is going to be catastrophic for our city and working parents, really."

A chorus of Sault residents voiced similar concerns on the new "Save Our YMCA (Sault Ste. Marie)" Facebook group, which went live Thursday night and has already garnered over 1,400 members as of Friday afternoon.

Several members used this digital space to highlight how important the YMCA's day care services are to them and the overall health of the community.

"My kids both went to daycare there," wrote user Sarah Bonin. "Now my son is a first responder and uses the Y daily to work out, play squash and to maintain his physical and mental health. There is no other facility like this that offers so many amenities to our community."

Others pointed to the YMCA's day care services as a generational institution, with parents enrolling their children in the program after going through it themselves.

"I attended the daycare when I was young," wrote user Felicia Moreau. "My children have been attending since they were both 9 months old. We love the staff like family and are truly heartbroken over this news."

During a Wednesday meeting at the YMCA, interim CEO John Haddock told members of the public that the charity is working with the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board (DSSMSSAB) to ensure that day care services continue in some form.

Talking to The Star on Friday, board chair Stephanie Hopkin said DSSMSSAB knew of the local YMCA's potential closure around a month ago, which gave her team some time to prepare contingencies for any lost day care spaces.

Currently, Hopkin said DSSMSSAB is having "continuing conversations" with the local YMCA and the YMCA of Northeastern Ontario, with saving the 140 child care spaces at McNabb being their top priority.

"This is something I've been talking about every day, so I'm hopeful that we'll see some movement soon and be able to let the public know and give them some peace of mind," she said.

Meanwhile, Haddock said he expects to retain the YMCA’s childcare workers past May 15 and denies reports that all staff will be laid off past that date.

"I think there's about 130 folks on payroll, but over half of those would be childcare (workers) and we're expecting those to be (involved in the) service continuation," the interim CEO said on Thursday.

The YMCA has been operating in the Sault since 1900, inhabiting a couple different locations before members purchased the McNabb Street property in 1963.

After opening its doors in September 1965, this newly constructed recreation centre has undergone a number of renovations and expansions since then to accommodate the needs of a growing community.

However, YMCA officials announced on Tuesday that they have made the “extremely difficult decision” to shut down this long-running institution due to a combination of factors, including increased operational costs, rising inflation and a slow return to pre-COVID levels of membership.

Haddock says the local YMCA’s current membership sits at around 2,800 people, which is a far cry from the roughly 7,000 members it registered in decades past.

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Kyle Darbyson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sault Star