Can’t Stop Columbus – YMCA of Central Ohio

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the YMCA of Central Ohio was serving over 4000 local children with high quality childcare, summer camps and enrichment centers.  The impact of the pandemic was severe for the organization, reducing its services while allowing it to meet critical community needs for essential workers only in three facilities.   A recent community collaboration is helping  the YMCA support its families and staff as they return to a fuller scope of childcare services.

According to Becky Ciminillo, Vice President of Youth Development for YMCA of Central Ohio, this time has been challenging but has also represented real opportunity for the organization.  “We want people to know that our facilities have always been safe.  We were already following over 700 rules before the pandemic including protocols for communicable diseases.  The period after COVID-19 really did hit a reset button for our team.  We’ve been reevaluating everything we do with intention and a focus on what is best for the children and families we serve, our staff members, and ensuring we are in line with the YMCA mission.”

Understanding The Drivers of Trust

To support these goals, the YMCA wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the concerns families and staff members were having about coming back to their childcare facilities and what actions they could take to make them feel safe and comfortable.   Through the YMCA’s relationship with The Columbus Foundation, a connection was made with the team at Lextant, a Columbus-based behavioral research and design firm, to execute a focused research sprint to inform these efforts.

“In reaction to COVID-19, The Columbus Foundation and the Can’t Stop Columbus program have created response plans to help businesses, organizations and individuals in our community who are being impacted by the virus,”  said Heather Tsavaris, Principal Consultant for Human:Kind at The Columbus Foundation. “We saw an opportunity to bring Lextant and the YMCA together to help them fully prepare for re-opening their childcare services.”

Parent & Staff Concerns

With the YMCA’s planning already underway and time being of the essence, the Lextant research team embarked on a focused, accelerated research sprint completed in just 10 days to help understand parent and staff concerns and identify ideal potential solutions to alleviate them.  The foundation of the research was based on Lextant’s sensory cue model for delivering clean and safe experiences.

“Our research lets us understand what people need to feel in order to feel comfortable returning to a childcare environment.  The key emotional drivers for both parents and staff members are being confident, relaxed, healthy, in control, stress free and safe,”  said Sarah Bodde, Director of Human-Centered Design for Lextant.  “We focused our co-creation sessions on how the YMCA could design protocols, processes and communication to create these experiences in the childcare setting.”

Delivering Clean & Safe Experiences

Lextant created a model depicting the ideal journey and experience of returning to childcare for parents and staff detailing the desired emotions they want to experience at each stage including preparing to go to the facility, arriving, time spent during the day and pick-up departure.

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These insights focused the YMCA on direct solutions that would have the most impact on parents and staff members and give them confidence in returning, including:

  • Communication – The YMCA designed its “Our Promise To Families” campaign to share its processes and protocols and how they will be enforced with parents and staff clear easy to understand way;
  • Visual Cues – The centers are using several visual cues that help support these protocols and reinforce for parents and staff members that the facilities are clean and safe including directional arrows, social distancing indicators on the floor, visible sanitizing practices and modeling PPE usage.
  • Protocols – The YMCA has set clear protocols to protect the safety of the children in its care and ensured that its staff members have everything they need to be able to enforce them.
  • Teamwork & Togetherness – Continued information flow between YMCA leaders, staff members and families to keep everyone informed and prepared. A survey was sent after the first week of opening asking parents for feedback on how the YMCA was doing in terms of Communication, Safety, Protocol Enforcement and Overall Satisfaction and received overwhelmingly positive feedback.

“We want our parents and staff members to know that ‘We’ve got this’.  While we were already developing strong plans for pick-up and drop-off protocols, PPE availability and other logistics, the Lextant work really helped us focus on what would matter most and how to bring those things to life,” continued Ciminillo.  “It hit home the importance of communication – early and often – leveraging visuals to reinforce our protocols, and keeping both parents and staff members engaged with us to modify our solutions as the situation evolves.”

In addition to its high quality childcare services, the YMCA recently restarted its summer camp programs and is making its plans to reinstate before and after school programs in the fall.

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