Onsite Day Care For Track Parents

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Thoroughbred horse racing in New York State moves between three tracks: Aqueduct in Queens, Belmont Park in Long Island and Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs. But 365 days a year, there are horses lodged at the backstretch stables of Belmont and Aqueduct, where employees arrive before dawn to clean stalls, feed the horses and groom them after training. Often, these employees – many of whom are recent Latino immigrants—are also caring for their children. Because the work day starts so early, many parents are without child care. For years that meant (and still does mean at many other tracks) that children come to work with parents and sleep in cars or hang around the stalls. But that changed in 2003 with the help of two racing enthusiasts, Michael Dubb and Eugene Melnyk, whose leadership created Anna House, a day-care center open every day for children whose parents are backstretch workers at Belmont and Aqueduct, which are less than 10 miles apart. In 1998, Mr. Dubb, founder of home building company the Beechwood Organization in Jericho, N.Y., learned from then-jockey Jerry Bailey about the track workers’ need for affordable, early-morning child care. Mr. Dubb approached the New York Racing Association, which governs the tracks and surrounding facilities, with plans to donate the construction of a dedicated facility. The Belmont Child Care Association was formed, and permits were sought. But funding for operating costs was still needed. At an annual fund-raiser during the Saratoga season—which will be held this year on Wednesday—the association found support from Mr. Melnyk, a Canadian businessman who breeds and trains thoroughbreds at his Winding Oaks Farm, in Florida and Kentucky. “They had the land, they had the approvals,” he said. “I just said, ‘How much do you need?’” With a $1 million pledge from Mr. Melnyk, Anna House (which is named for his first daughter) opened in 2003. He has continued to support the education center with regular financial gifts and greater visibility. Initially, Anna House educated and cared for children from 6 weeks to 6 years old. The head count has been about 50, but it will increase to 70 this fall because of two additions—built and donated by Mr. Dubb—where elementary and high-school students can study English. “The parents are supportive, but they frequently cannot help through the language barriers,” said Anna House’s executive director, Donna Chenkin. For the donors, the need to raise awareness continues. Mr. Dubb hopes the message is reaching all the track parents who need the help. “We would also like to expand to Saratoga,” he said. Mr. Melnyk’s work continues, as well. “I want to spend my time encouraging other people to give. Go see the backstretch,” he said. “It’s non-stop.”

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