Irene Nives the Site Leader for Crownhill Elementary Smiling

Reshaping the Before and After Program in Kitsap with Unconditional care and Trauma-Informed Practices

Meet Irene Nives, the new Site Director for Crownhill’s YMCA Before and After School Program. Only a month in, Irene and her team are proud of the program’s approach to caring for kids who may have behavioral issues.  

“Each kid will come with their trauma and needs. Our job isn’t to force them to do what we want them to do. This program is meant for more freedom. The point is to have fun and assist where they need it.”

How Nives Joins the YMCA Child Care Team 

Growing up, Nives wanted to be a nurse or teacher. At age five, she took care of her brother and cousins. As the eldest among her siblings, she often took on the role of caretaker.   

Nives knew she wanted to impact people’s lives. From her time watching her younger brother and cousins to volunteering her time in the community with her mother, Nives eventually found her way to the YMCA Child Care team. 

“After the pandemic, I noticed there was an immediate need for anything to do with child care. But, with high turnover rates, there is little to no support for childcare workers in most settings. I’m glad I found a place that understands and treats people equally.”   

Gregory Stewart Senior Program Director of Bremerton
Gregory Stewart, Program Director engaging with children in Crownhill Afterschool Program

Developing A Trauma-Informed Approach

Gregory Stewart, also known as "G," the Program Director for Bremerton School District, is new to the YMCA but not new to providing unconditional care to youth. "I started as a security guard at a school and worked my way up to being a student advocate, where I took the approach to not kick the kids out of school for misbehaving. I believe in giving kids chances to unlearn the behaviors and trauma they might be carrying."   

Though Stewart's approach to child care works for the kids at Crownhill Elementary. "Trauma-informed care includes strategies and philosophies that take into account the trauma and challenges each of our kids has to face daily. As we work to increase our own awareness, we believe our program is becoming trauma-informed as we realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery,” said Stewart.  

“We try to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with our work. We respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma with policies, procedures, and practices, and seek to actively resist re-traumatization.”  

Debby Wade, the Membership Service Manager for the Kitsap YMCA Child Care program, describes "G" as selfless. "He arrives early in the morning before the sun comes up and walks to school. Then, he leaves long after the office closes. He talks with his staff in a gentle but authoritative manner, always kindly about ‘the kids’ and puts their welfare ahead of his."

How Children Benefit from Unconditional Care  

The Crownhill YMCA Child Care team works in unison to provide care that puts kids first. One way they accomplish this is by being transparent and forgiving towards the children. "One way we promote diversity and get the kids to think deeper about community is through our community circle exercises," said Nives.  

"One question we posed to the kids during one of the circles was, 'if there's one thing in the world you would change, what would you change?' So many of the kids' responses centered around accessing healthcare and people being nicer to each other. Things like that make you realize these kids are present and compassionate."  

  Nathaniel Tapia, also known as “Mr. Turtle” playing football with Crownhill participant
Nathaniel Tapia, also known as “Mr. Turtle” playing football with Crownhill participants

This approach to childcare has demonstrated outcomes in how the children at Crowhill Elementary see themselves and this program and gain confidence in their decisions. Abby, a student within the program, has found the program not only engaging but fun: "The After School Program is fun because you get to have snacks, go to the gym, and we get to pick what you want to do at times. Irene [Nives] is so nice and fun, and Mr. Turtle is too!"  

Families, kids, and staff have felt a new spark in the Crownhill YMCA Before and After school program. Looking to the future, the team at Crownhill has hopes to expand the program and continue their approach of a trauma-informed, child-centered program.