Thursday, 21 September 2017 15:21

HPL camp bridges childcare gap when Harvey cancels school

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Children of employees draw with chalk in the Central Library plaza during camp HoUSton. Children of employees draw with chalk in the Central Library plaza during camp HoUSton. Photo courtesy of HPL


Disaster relief doesn’t always come in the form of high-water rescues, shelters, or supply deliveries. Sometimes relief comes in the form of a simple solution that offers peace of mind.

After Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the official citywide return-to-work date, employees faced a number of unanswered questions. Is my work site flooded? Where do I report to work? Are the roads clear? Is my bus running? Where will I park? What am I going to do with my kids?

With school cancellations in school districts across the greater Houston area, many employees were relieved when a citywide email from Houston Public Library offered a timely solution for parents heading back to work. Camp HoUSton was a free, temporary childcare program held at Central Library for children of employees ages 4-18. The camp, held from Sept. 5-8, and extended from Sept. 11-15, was open to all employees, but limited to the first 150 employees who registered.

After the storm, Sara Lopez was eager to get back to her Human Resources job at 611 Walker, but her daughter’s school was still closed.

“This camp helped us a lot,” Lopez said. “We didn’t know what we were going to do with our daughter, Daisy. Both my husband and I work for the city, and we don’t have any family in town. I’m very thankful for the library putting on this program, and Daisy had a great time.

Raven Bradley was in the same boat. She works at the Health Department’s offices on Stadium Drive, but Bradley said Camp HoUSton was worth the detour downtown to drop her son, Ethan, off at the Central Library downtown.

“As a parent and an employee, I was concerned about how to find childcare on short notice,” Bradley said. “This was the perfect solution — I could still go to work, do the things I needed to do to help the city recover, and still have a safe and engaging place to take my son.”

The camp was run by two Central Library youth librarians, Rebecca Denham, teen services coordinator, and Sara Pope, children’s service coordinator. Several other employees from flood-damaged branch libraries volunteered to help. 

“We have a great team a lot of dedicated youth staff who are good at planning on the fly,” Denham said. “I know HPL ran a similar program for employees’ children after Hurricane Ike, so as Harvey approached, we knew this might be a possibility. We were able to start planning the basic framework of ages and the number of children we could accommodate.”

Activities for older children included “cubelets,” or modular robotics, circuits, jewelry-making, gaming, duct tape crafts, stop-motion animator and paper construction projects. Midrine Landry, 12, proudly displayed a bracelet she made.

Younger children read stories, created chalk art on the library plaza, played with jump ropes and hoola hoops.

“We made pictures, did puzzles and made some new friends,” said Audrey Roach, 7. “This was more fun that staying home during the hurricane.”