By Lisa Shrewsberry
Parental attitudes concerning the recent unexpected expansion of Martin Luther King Day into Martin Luther King Break ran the gamut from “slightly stressed but still smiling” to “utterly defeated.”
Not ones to dwell on what can’t be changed, those who chose to comment while entertaining their kids at Beckley fun space Jump Zone did have a noteworthy suggestion for entrepreneurs on the market for a family-friendly cash cow to milk in bad weather: Build it and we will come.
Resourcefulness was the common sentiment for Summers County mom Natasha Farrish, on her fourth hour behind the depleting page count of a novel that had been new at noon. She braved the mounds of moguls on the trek to Beckley so her two children, Sydney, 7 and Jackson, 5, could run safely amuck with others inside the inflatables at Jump Zone last Thursday, the eighth snow day before cell phones again buzzed parents into a few startled jumps of their own. Could it be the Board of Education?
“I’m originally from North Carolina (Lake Norman area). There were a lot of options when school was out. There are no day care options open yet in Summers County.”
Enter coloring books and enough loom bands, in theory, to bungee from the New River Gorge Bridge.
“There is nothing else to do. A lot of moms in the Hinton area are having the same problem.”
Farrish was also weathering the challenges of living on a farm while her husband had to be out of town.
“So, not only do I have to take care of the kids, but I’ve been taking care of the animals, too.”
Other places she found for herself and her goslings to nest were the Shady Spring Branch Library and Chick-fil-A’s play place.
Farrish adds she had to call in two days last week to work, with a schedule routinely matched to her kids’ school hours, saying, “I didn’t have a choice.”
Surprisingly, Jump Zone owner Jenni Fenton and her husband Bill, who recently took over the building and reinvented it from the former “Jump Craze,” didn’t see a rush until near the end of the week.
“It can be so cold that it’s detrimental to business.”
The Fentons have added features to their open arena of large inflatables to vary the activities for repeat customers, including a climbing wall, a hula-hooping area, a putt-putt mini golf course and an expanded lounge with Wi-Fi where parents can comfortably and connectedly linger.
They catered sandwiches and chicken nuggets for kids earlier in the week to make the day-off more convenient for parents, free with the cost of entry. By the end of the week, the juvenile joint was literally jumping with activity.
“We have clients coming from Raleigh County, but also Fayette, Summers and Mercer. Once they get here, they’re content to stay for several hours. It’s a good way to keep kids active, too — to get their 60 minutes of play in a day,” stated Jenni.
The Fentons are planning future expansions of their business, catering to the most viable and sustainable suggestions of parents looking to while away a few hours with their hovercraft sensors on “OFF.”
“Everybody gets cabin fever. We know there are parents who also struggle with the daycare issue. That’s why we see a lot of grandparents coming in with their grandchildren to help out,” she said.
Parents aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch of a surly Old Man Winter with a score to settle. Employers face a potential productivity decline on harsh weather days, when employees are willing to take any time off they can out of necessity, paid and unpaid.
Cindy Fazio, pre-press manager at Central Printing, says the Doppler radar can’t affect her deadline.
“If we have employees who can’t get here because of the weather, they can let us know, but the policy is they need to be here. They wouldn’t get paid if they didn’t come to work.”
Although the scenario didn’t affect her production with the last arctic blast, Fazio says customers don’t care if it’s snowing — what they care about is what was promised on the day of delivery. She admits it’s a concern for small and large business owners.
“If someone can’t make it to work (because of child care issues or weather), then others have to take over the extra role. Our employees are cross-trained to be able to fill in when needed, but that also means we may have to step in and stay late to get orders done.”
For those parents who can’t take the day off no matter the accumulation, the YMCA of Southern West Virginia is happy to help out — at least 20 families.
Marketing Director Jenni Canterbury says their first-come, first-served “School Day Out” program is designed for parents to drop their kids off for supervision and activities from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. when school is canceled or for scheduled intermissions like spring break.
“Our limit is 20 children, and by 9:30 a.m., if parents are planning on bringing the kids, they should call to make sure we’re not full first,” Canterbury suggests.
The program is also designed to be affordable at $10 per child for YMCA members and $20 for non-members. Children can bring lunch or the YMCA will provide it for $5 each.
For parents proactive in their childcare planning, the YMCA also hosts summer camp programs, Canterbury reminds. “There are different activities every day, including field trips. We try to keep kids active during the time they are here.”
Unlike School Day Out, the Y’s Summer Camp Program does require pre-registration and a three-day per week minimum commitment.
Parents with children enrolled in the after-school program at Stepping Stones Academy, Beaver, can breathe easier on unexpected holidays. When public school isn’t in session, enrolled children up to age 12 can be dropped off at Stepping Stones for a daily rate of $25.
Director Mitzi Richmond explains, “Parents with children enrolled here know that we are here and that they can bring their kids on snow days. Some of their children have been coming here since they were infants, and they have a relationship with us. They don’t have to make a call to see if there’s space.”
Children enrolled only in Stepping Stones’ summer program and not the after-school program may still qualify for school day-off space, explains Richmond.
Even stay-at-home moms need pause when there’s no break in the forecast. Freedom Ministries Pastor Philip Farrington says he, his wife Candace and their three children, Elijah, 9, Jay, 6, and Addison, 20 months, enjoyed the change of pace by going sleigh riding and getting out of the house for a romp at Jump Zone.
“It’s a challenge in this area to find things for families to do.”
Being optimistic, he’d grade the local activity and care option offerings for putting the “C”s in scarce. His positive take on the cold hard reality of too much cold?
“Take a deep breath and relax. Enjoy any time you have off with your kids. There will come a day when you don’t have this time together. Turn it into a blessing and not a curse.”
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