When the downtown Berkeley YMCA reopens its Family Center later this month, it will provide new services for non-member families with disabled children, foster families, pregnant teens and teen mothers.
In the past, the Family Center had a narrower focus, offering convenient low-cost baby sitting for YMCA members who wanted to ran a tread mill, lift weights or go for a swim.
The new and improved Family Center will soon add a counseling component to its services. It will be a place where teen mothers and parents of disabled children can find a supportive ear. It will also serve foster families.
“It’s our way of thanking parents who are foster parents for what they are doing and also to support them,” said Diane Dodge, associate executive director of the YMCA. Eden O’Brien-Brenner, family program director for the downtown Berkeley YMCA who also has a foster child, said the Family Center will serve as a community for parents to meet other parents and for young children to spend time with their peers. She said the programs will serve as an educational resource for parents. They can learn how to manage everything from their children’s separation anxiety to teething problems.
Many families also need a place to leave their children while they exercise and cannot afford to pay steep prices for childcare services. Child watch services cost $2.50 per hour for members.
“A lot of families could not exercise if not for this center and the programs,” O’Brien-Brenner said. The old Family Center occupied only one room in the YMCA at 2001 Allston Way. A second room is being added and the original room is being renovated. The area includes special places for kids – a reading loft, a computer learning area, a play area with tricycles and a private resting area for infants. There will also be an area for counseling. While their parents work out or receive counseling, children from eight weeks to seven years old can work with a literacy specialist and do yoga. Proposition 10, a state tobacco tax that gives money to childhood services, funded the expanded counseling program with a $50,000 grant. The YMCA was one of 11 organizations in Berkeley that received funding from the proposition.
The Family Center will be in use by mid-January and the grand opening event for members will be Feb. 10. The idea for a new center began two years ago, but construction did not begin until child summer camps ended in early September and is not yet finished.
The cost of construction for the Family Center and the soon-to-be-built Teen Center directly upstairs is about $200,000.
Dodge said the center should serve at least 300 to 400 families a week, about a 30 percent increase from the previous center.
“It will be so much fun here that the parents will have to come to work out just so the kids can spend time here at the Family Center,” she said.