The economy’s tanking, and you’re trying your best not to let your family’s finances go down the tubes, too. Just in time: Here’s a (by-no-means-complete) list of free services and activities for the younger set in and around Asheville.
• Let your kids run free at the N.C. Arboretum on Tuesdays, when the attraction waives its parking fee (usually $6).
• On the first Wednesday of the month, Pack Place (2 South Pack Square) offers free admission to its museums from 3 to 5 p.m. It’s a full house on those afternoons, but it’s hard to beat free entrance to the Asheville Art Museum, the Colburn Earth Science Museum and The Health Adventure.
• Kids love stories, and the Buncombe County public libraries come through with free story times throughout the week (see www.buncombecounty.org/governing/depts/Library/storytimes.htm) for young children. The summer reading program for school-age kids—Be Creative @ Your Library—kicks off June 1, promising an African music/storytelling event plus a summer-long focus on books and all manner of creative activities. Details to come at www.buncombecounty.org/governing/depts/Library/summerReading.htm.
• The city of Asheville’s recreation centers also offer free or low-cost activities for kids. The Girls Only Club at the Murphy-Oakley Center (749 Fairview Road) hosts weekly sessions aimed at elementary and middle-school girls that cover nutrition and other topics, along with arts and crafts (call 251-4042 to register). Children (and adults) can take free break-dancing lessons from the Hunab Kru troupe at the Stephens-Lee Center (30 George Washington Carver, off Charlotte Street) on Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m.; info at 350-2058.
• And, of course, playgrounds—the ultimate free activity for little energy bombs—are available around Asheville in spades.
• The YWCA of Asheville provides free after-school tutoring and enrichment for middle-school students through the Support Our Students program (254-7206, ext. 205). For 9th and 10th graders at risk of dropping out of school, the YWCA’s FutureVision provides an after-school enrichment program plus mentors (254-7206, ext. 103).
• The W.C. Reid Center for Creative Arts (133 Livingston St.) offers free arts, theater and film/video classes for school-age kids every afternoon from 4 to 6 p.m. Info: 350-2048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breastfeeding support groups
• The La Leche League of Asheville offers breastfeeding info and support. Nursing moms, pregnant women, babies and toddlers are welcome. Morning meeting: second Monday of the month at 10 a.m., First Congregational Church, 20 Oak St., downtown Asheville. Info: 628-4438; 505-1379. Evening meeting: third Monday of the month at 7 p.m., Awakening Heart Chiropractic, 260 Merrimon Ave., Suite 101, Asheville. Info: 254-5591.
• A new free nursing circle offers support and information for nursing moms. The free drop-in group, hosted by Holly Mason of Empowered Birthing Breastfeeding classes, takes place Tuesdays from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Women’s Wellness and Education Center at 24 Arlington St. (off Charlotte Street) in north Asheville. Info: 250-0226.
• Two government-funded programs provide free child care at highly rated centers to low-income families that qualify. Early Head Start serves children ages birth to age 3. Pregnant women may also qualify for services. Families who live in the Asheville City Schools District or who live in the areas served by the Emma, Woodfin or Johnston elementary schools should call Asheville City Schools Preschool (255-5099). Families who live elsewhere in Buncombe County should call The Mountain Area Child and Family Center at 298-0808. Head Start serves children ages 3 through 5 who are not yet eligible for kindergarten. Residents of Asheville, Buncombe and Madison counties can apply through Community Action Opportunities (252-2495).
• The YWCA of Asheville provides free drop-in child care through its New Choices program for parents who are in transition, looking for employment or continuing their education. Call 254-7206, ext. 113.
• Though not technically free, it’s still worth mentioning that eligible parents may receive financial assistance for child care through vouchers accepted at local child-care centers. Info: Buncombe County Child Care Services (250-5500).
A recent change in governmental regulations (related to child-care deductions) means that families that weren’t eligible for food assistance may now qualify. In Buncombe County, call the Department of Social Services at 250-5500.
• Mommy and Me for Babies is a free group for new parents that meets in Asheville for support, education, exercise and resources. Tuesdays: Mommy/Baby Yoga for Pre-crawlers (9:30); guest speakers and discussion (10:30); and Walk and Talk (11:45 a.m.) in south Asheville at the Reuter Family YMCA in the Mission Wellness Resource Center Room. Wednesdays: guest speakers and discussion (11:30 a.m.) and Mommy/Baby Yoga for Pre-Crawlers (12:30 p.m.), at Asheville Sun Yi’s Tae Kwon Do studio in West Asheville. To register: 213-8098 or email@example.com.
• Play & Learn offers fun pre-literacy activities in a series of 45-minute sessions for children ages 2 to 5 with a parent or caregiver. New Tuesday sessions (10 a.m.) run April 28 through June 2; Wednesday sessions (10 a.m. and 11 a.m.) run April 29 through June 3. Register by phone (255-5423) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Held at the Family Resource Center at Asheville City Schools Preschool, 441 Haywood Road in West Asheville.
• Playgroup at the East Asheville Recreation Center (906 Tunnel Road) runs 10 a.m. to noon on Fridays for babies and children up to age 5. Info: 251-4041 or email@example.com.
• Toddler Fun offers parents structured fun with their toddlers, including 45 minutes of songs, stories, finger play, parachute play and more. Wednesdays (10:30 a.m.) at Asheville Sun Yi’s Tae Kwon Do studio in West Asheville. To register: 213-8098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most people probably know about Medicaid, the government-sponsored health-insurance program that covers qualifying low-income people and their families. However, if your family makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid but you can’t afford health-insurance premiums, your children still may be eligible for free or discounted health insurance through North Carolina Health Choice for Children. The program covers the cost of hospitalization, doctor’s visits, dental care, mental-health services and more. You can apply for either program through your county’s Department of Social Services. In Buncombe County, visit www.buncombecounty.org/GOVERNING/DEPTS/dss/ or call 250-5500.
The YWCA of Asheville offers a free summer camp for middle-school students enrolled in the Support Our Students program (254-7206, ext. 205). The YWCA’s free FutureVision Summer Camp is aimed at rising 9th, 10th and 11th graders (254-7206, ext. 103). For a full list, including other free camps and ones offering scholarships or discounted tuition, see the summer-camps article in this section.