The Belmont Child Care Association

By Teresa Genaro of Brooklyn Backstretch

I'm pretty sure that my local card store has already put out their Christmas cards, and while overall I am about as near to thinking about Christmas as I am to thinking about retirement (and that would be not nearly near enough), a recent e-mail from the Belmont Child Care Association with news about their annual holiday party for the children of the backstretch workers has begun to put me in the Christmas spirit. 

Last April, Donna Chenkin, executive director of the Belmont Child Care Association, wrote a piece in The Blood-Horse about the creation of the Belmont Child Care Association and its educational center, Anna House.  Since 2003, the teachers and staff at Anna House have cared for and taught the children of the backstretch workers, every single day of the year, beginning at 5 a.m.

One can imagine that finding responsible, reliable child care for the backstretch workers is not easy; few daycare centers and schools are open when they go to work, and the cost of such places is generally prohibitive.  Anna House provides a safe, educational environment for very low cost, so that when the backstretch workers go to take care of the horses, they know that their children are well taken care of.  In August, Todd and Tracey Pletcher were honored at the BCCA's annual major fundraiser, and in his remarks that night, Pletcher told the story of a man who's worked at the Pletcher barns for eleven years, and whose twin daughters attend Anna House. "Cesar is the backbone of our organization," Pletcher said, noting the relief of the workers who know that their children are looked after.  Instead of having their children sleep in the car as they work (not an uncommon occurrence), backstretch workers can, as Pletcher pointed out, do their jobs knowing that their children are in a safe, educational facility, close to where they work.

The BCCA hosts various events throughout the year, some of which are geared towards fund-raising, others of which are simply to serve their clientele.  An example of the latter will occur on December 13th, when the BCCA will host its seventh annual holiday shopping event for the children of Anna House.   At this party, the children of Anna House are invited to come and pick out gifts to give to their siblings, parents, and grandparents.  When the children arrive at Anna House, they chat with Santa, and then, with a volunteer, they make a shopping list for their family.  With list in hand, the children enter the Anna House "mall" and pick out presents for their family.  After the presents are selected, they move to Santa's elves, who wrap and tag the gifts.  Last year, over three hundred and fifty children left with big smiles and bags full of joy for their families.

I attended this event for the first time a year ago (and wrote about it here); walking with the children among the gifts, seeing them so thoughtfully consider what their parents might like, observing their delight when they found the perfect gift, I saw in action the good work of the BCCA and its donors. 

We all know that the sport that we love cannot exist without the backstretch workers, who are all too often forgotten as we discuss championships and marketing and revenue.  Their days are long and their pay is low, and racing can't survive without them.  The Belmont Child Care Association and its board deserve kudos for their work, which could-and should-serve as a model for similar organizations at racetracks across the country.  At Aqueduct on Sunday, the temperature was in the fifty-degree range, and the sunshine felt absolutely balmy; Christmas felt a long way away.  But thanks to the planning at the BCCA, the children of Anna House know that Christmas is definitely coming, both for them and for their families. 

Teresa Genaro writes about New York Racing at Brooklyn Backstretch.

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