I have many fond memories from growing up on a dairy farm.
One that made a big impression on my life was when we sat down at the table for a meal, the children's plates were filled first. My parents always insisted that the little ones come first - no matter what the situation.
Now, to be truthful, this practice wasn't so firm when my sister, brothers and I were growing up, but certainly was cast in stone by the time the grandkids came along. Now, as a mother of three, grandmother of six grands and two greats, my husband and I have tried to instill that concept in our own children. As is the case with many families today, our youngest son, his two small children and their mother lived with us until they could get on their feet financially and get their own home.
Mary Dunkleberger, seen sitting with her two grandchildren, Jimmy and Anna, is the recipient of a YMCA scholarship to help pay monthly daycare
costs at the organization. The scholarship is with funding made possible with the help of the Lycoming County United Way.
About this time last year, my husband and I were looking forward to our retirement years. He is disabled and I had just taken early retirement so that we could spend time together doing the things we enjoy but were unable to do while we were raising our family and both working full time: camping, yard-saling, maybe even some serious traveling.
It seems that every family has a life-changing year - for us it was 2009.
Most of these changes were not positive ones. Our son became physically unable to care for or support his children, but they and their mother still lived with us. In September, we all believed that it was time their mother make an attempt to live on her own with the children, but after two weeks it became apparent that this would not work out.
In October, it became necessary that my husband and I take immediate custody of our two youngest grandchildren, Adreanna "Anna" and Jimmy, who are now 2 and 4 years old.
At the time, both children had been enrolled full-time in the YMCA daycare program and were doing well.
In August of last year, Anna was promoted to a preschool classroom and was adjusting quite well. However, it seemed like the trauma of the whole situation affected her to the point that she became very emotional and insecure at daycare.
Because we didn't see any of this behavior at home, I was surprised when the staff informed me of Anna's fears. Her insecurities were so severe at times that her teachers were almost in tears.
After working very closely with Anna's teachers to provide Anna with a safe, secure, loving environment at school as well as at home, she has blossomed into a very intelligent, happy, loving little girl.
She is excited about learning her alphabet, numbers and colors, but also is very fascinated about the world around her. We are so thankful that Anna was enrolled at the YMCA daycare and will be forever grateful to those very special teachers who so lovingly helped us restore Anna to her full potential.
Jimmy - now he's just a little guy who is so fascinated with the world around him that he can't run from one thing to the other fast enough.
In his classroom when he is on his "journey" from toy A to toy B, he's been known to skid to a stop in front of the mirror, give himself a "hey" and run on. He has a cheery "see-ya" and a wave, or a game of peek-a-boo that will delight even the grumpiest mood.
When he wakes up at his usual 5 a.m. (this grandmother still hasn't gotten used to waking up very happy) his face lights up with a giggle and his little body just wiggling when I walk in. At that point, my day usually is off to a good start.
Now, let's come down to the real world.
How are a 67-year-old disabled great-grandfather and his 64-year-old wife going to be able to physically and financially take care of two very active toddlers?
It seems that the concept of "the little ones come first" didn't start with us. God put the whole scenario I place, I believe, to give these children's parents an opportunity to grow stronger and become the type of parents that these two children deserve.
He has not only provided a home for these two little ones (ours) but has provided for every physical and financial need to ensure that these children are safe, healthy, happy and provided for.
No, my husband and I don't have a big retirement fund to tap into. If it hadn't been for government help and YMCA scholarships for these children, they would not be in the care of family - they would be in the foster care system.
Even though I am a fairly healthy 64-year-old great grandmother, my energy level can in no way keep up with, nurture and teach two children of this age 24-7. If I even tried, I'm afraid my physical health level, not to mention mental and emotional health, would decline very quickly!
Having these scholarships available to support the care for these children for 40 hours a week has enabled me to have 40 hours a week to - literally - act my age. Sometimes it means I need to take a nap to catch up on some lost sleep, or get household chores done, shop and get to other appointments that I can't really handle with the kids in tow.
By the time I pick them up at 5 p.m., I'm refreshed and look forward to the evening with them.
Here are the dollars and cents of daycare: If we were paying full rate for five days, 80 hours total for both children per week, it would cost us $353 per week or $1,430 per month.
(The amount comes down to only $4.40 per hour and when you consider what the YMCA provides for the children - meals, activities, age-appropriate teaching from qualified teachers - parents are getting substantial support for their children while they are working.)
Now back to our situation.
There is no way my husband and I could afford the cost, nor could a large percentage of other parents, but with the scholarships that Anna and Jimmy have been awarded, we only pay $140 per week or $562 per month.
The scholarship program has enabled us to keep these children in quality daycare, as well as allow us to still have time to maintain our slower retiree lifestyle. The funds provided by Lycoming County United Way are being well invested in the lives of the children enrolled at the YMCA daycare.
I fully believe that our community will reap great rewards as these children grow into strong adults. The scholarship program truly is an investment in our future generation. I personally thank you all for supporting the YMCA scholarship program through United Way.
The next question would be, "Are you going to continue to raise these children?"
The answer is no. Their father is preparing to take over his responsibilities with the completion of the fatherhood program through the Salvation Army as well as working a full-time job.
We are looking forward to the day when he is able to make a home for the children and take full responsibility for Anna and Jimmy.
When this chapter of our lives is accomplished, my husband and I may just take a nice, relaxing cruise to see what it's like to have someone take care of us.
Through its annual funds distribution process determined by community volunteers, United Way allocated $50,000 for childcare scholarships at the YMCA this year.
For more information about the River Valley Regional YMCA or its programs, call 323-7134 or visit the website at rvr ymca.org.
For more information on Lycoming County United Way or to support the campaign that funds more than 40 human service programs like these, visit lcuw.org or call 323-9448.