ANIMAL SHELTER PIVOTS PROGRAMMING TO HELP ESSENTIAL WORKERS

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, dropping children off at daycare was an everyday activity for many parents. As daycares began to close, healthcare workers and essential employees were in need of immediate childcare more than ever. The Haven at Skanda (Skanda), a nonprofit organization located in Cazenovia that pairs rescue animals with children in need of support, quickly responded by pivoting its programming to support these families in crisis.

Skanda is home to rescued and endangered animals that live and play in a safe and natural environment. While Skanda provides year-long support programming for children and adults through interaction with animals, the organization was not equipped or certified to provide childcare services.

“First and foremost, our mission is to create a safe space for children, adults, and animals,” said Ellen Beckerman, executive director of the Haven. “While we didn’t have the capacity to provide all-day childcare, I recognized the need and how crucial it was for workers on the front lines to have a secure place for their children to be taken care of.”

Skanda acquired a temporary license from New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services to provide emergency on-site childcare to school-aged children that have histories of complex trauma, are in foster care homes, have guardians and parents that are essential personnel or are at-high-risk for abuse. The program is staffed by social workers, nurses, and special education teachers with experience working with youth in need of support.

The curriculum is based on Skanda’s youth programming, which is founded on the principles of Positive Youth Development and teaches mindfulness, peaceful conflict resolution, and leadership. Children attending the daycare spend their days outside with the animals, which include horses, mini donkeys, goats, chickens, pigs, and more. The children participate in schoolwork, art, nature walks, leadership activities, and recreational games. 

“Mindfulness helps children increase self-awareness and regulate their emotions,” said Beckerman. “It has proven to provide physical and mental health enhancements so we are using the same tactics in the childcare program.”

 Skanda received a $15,000 grant from the Madison County Rural Poverty Fund and a $5,000 grant from the Women’s Fund of Central New York to support this emergency childcare program. Both funds have been providing funding to organizations working with residents who are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the economic consequences of this outbreak.

 Many other surrounding organizations have also lent their hands to support Skanda’s efforts. The Cazenovia School District provides breakfast and lunch for the children and Cazenovia College’s Human Services program supplies an undergraduate student as a part-time intern for the childcare program. 

 In addition to its on-site offerings, Skanda is looking forward to implementing a live-feed video of its barns and pastures for children to interact with the animals remotely.

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