Time is money at co-op childcare Published Aug. 12, 2013 By Senior Airman Jessica Hines 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy (AFNS) -- For stay-at-home parents, there are no such things as coffee breaks, overtime pay or weekends and holidays off. For them, the duty day never really ends. Safe and reliable childcare becomes a precious commodity for stay-at-home parents who seek the freedom to complete ordinary tasks such as grocery shopping, checking the mail, going to the gym or volunteering with local organizations. "To not have an option for childcare is frustrating and can be exhausting," said Diana Nicely, the 31st Force Support Squadron Parent Co-Op Care program manager. "Finding a safe environment for your children can be challenging and here at the Parent Co-Op that's what we provide." The Parent Co-Op Care program is a private organization and daycare operated on base that provides free childcare for service members and their families in exchange for their volunteered time. A one-of-a-kind program in the Air Force, the co-op was a unique solution created almost 10 years ago in response to Italy's Status of Forces Agreement that prevents non-Europeans from working on the Italian economy. As a result, stay-at-home parents and spouses are prevented from running home-based businesses such as child daycare. As a former stay-at-home mother, Nicely operated her own in-home daycare while living stateside as a way to be with her children and still work, but was unable to do so once her family moved to Aviano Air Base, Italy, this year. "Not being able to do that here is very challenging for some families," Nicely said. "The only child care options at Aviano (AB) are the (child development center) and (Aviano Youth Programs), which give priority to military-to-military, single military and dual-working spouses." At the co-op, parents and children interact and network with other families while volunteering their time to receive free childcare. "These civilian stay-at-home parents need to find an outlet for doing things for themselves while also giving their children opportunities to interact with other children, which can also be challenging when families often live far apart," Nicely said. The program works when a volunteer parent signs up to work at least one shift in the daycare. In return, they can receive up to five days of free care for their children during that same week. Because of the limitations of the co-cp facility, daycare is only provided to children older than six weeks who have not started school yet. While the program primarily attracts stay-at-home mothers and fathers, it also provides assistance to temporary stay-at-home parents who are in transition between jobs or seeking employment. For Heather Diaz, one of the newest parent volunteers with the co-op and mother of two, bringing her 2 and 4-year-old children gives her the free time to concentrate on her job search. I went to the employment class at the Airman and family readiness center and they suggested to start volunteering before getting a job because of how difficult it can be," Diaz said. "I'm a tax accountant, so I'm hopeful the free time I get will allow me to go to the library and fill out job applications and work on my resume. Plus is would be great to get to the gym." Diaz also enjoys that her kids have the chance to interact with other children before they start preschool in the fall. "It's great for them too," Diaz said. "They've only ever been at home with family, so this is good social interaction with the other children. I'm happy I can be here with them while I'm volunteering." "I love that the parents want to come here to work with the kids and be a part of the classroom, and the kids see the benefits of that," Nicely said. "I believe in this program. This is a place where parents appreciate it because they're here working with the kids and when they have that motivation to make the program work -- it works. It's amazing."