A couple created an online babysitting club that's giving out-of-work Broadway performers a new spotlight and some extra cash
New York City couple Kyle Reilly and Kristina Hanford are connecting talented out-of-work performers with parents who need help keeping kids occupied. Professional performers often rely on side jobs as nannies, babysitters, or waiters/waitresses in restaurants. When the coronavirus struck, it took out both their primary and secondary income sources. The Virtual Babysitters Club gives these professionals a new source of income. Reilly and Hanford have onboarded 75 performers and are reviewing 500 applications to expand their offerings. Hanford told Business Insider that she had always wanted to help performers find meaningful side jobs and the coronavirus pandemic provided the opportunity to strategize how to do that. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Professional performer Kristina Hanford traveled the world as Elsa in the Disney Cruise Lines "Frozen." When the singer, actor, and dancer wasn't performing off-Broadway or at regional theaters, she nannied for a local family. When New York City became the United States' epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, it curtailed all of Hanford's work. Hanford — like most performers — relies on jobs in the service industry like nannying, babysitting, and waitressing. With mandated shutdowns and social distancing mandates, all of that income evaporated. For Hanford it was about more than the money. She missed the family she worked for and stayed connected through FaceTime. A two-hour virtual visit sparked an idea for Hanford's partner, entrepreneur Kyle Reilly.
"Kristina was having so much fun Facetiming with the young boy she used to nanny for. And she was helping the parents through the crisis. I said to her, 'Why not start a virtual babysitters club?'" Reilly said. "She thought it was a great idea, and we knew there was no one better suited to handle the job than performers." The couple began screening performers and connecting them with families in early March 2020. On March 31, the Virtual Babysitters Club LLC was officially formed, and the website launched on April 7. The virtual service offers creative entertainment options for families balancing working from home and keeping their children engaged. One-on-one sessions are $30 an hour. Private group sessions are $90 for at least five participants. Public group sessions are $18.00 per child, and offer kids a chance to make new friends. Sessions are led by talented performers with diverse backgrounds from musical theater to television show hosts, singers, puppeteers, and more. All performers go through a rigorous background check before approval. Activities range from dance activities to music where kids participate in games, activities, and sing-a-longs. Art sessions captivate kids' attention through drawing and creating and games test their knowledge in interactive fun ways. Breakout Adventures immerse participants in their own adventure and work with friends to solve puzzles and strategy games, save the world and become a master spy.
After a session is booked, an automatic/random and unique zoom link is created specific to that session. It is sent via email to the parent(s)' email address along with any instructions for needed supplies. The notice includes the ability to add the appointment information into most calendars. All participants are held in a waiting room until the host performer makes sure nobody has joined who is not supposed to be there. Once invited into the session, parents are welcome to meet the performer and ask questions. "We think it's a healthy alternative to video games that kids are maybe playing during this time," Hanford said. While the VBC is giving parents a hand, it is offering income and stability to the performers who participate. Two such performers are Andrea Dotto and her fiancé Brendan Malafronte, who lead Storytime Pals with the Dusty & Dott Show. Dusty is a puppet Malafronte created five years ago on the rooftop of the couple's Harlem apartment; before he toured with "Annie,"he thought it would be fun to create an understudy for the musical's lead dog, Sandy. Malafronte, also a master puppet instructor at Pace University, brought the puppet to his future in-laws' home in upstate New York when the couple left the city to quarantine there. They launched the Dusty & Dott YouTube channel and brought the show to the Virtual Babysitters Club. From silly characters to arts and crafts, Dusty & Dott make stories come to life. "We're craving stability and structure — everybody is, especially artists, because so much has been taken away from our norm," Dotto said. "To be able to show up to work, even though it is virtually, and connecting with kids, and even having time to connect with different performers and the parents of the family, makes you feel like you're doing your purpose by telling stories." "The VBC is giving us what is missing from theater right now, that live feedback," Malafronte said. "Transitioning from theater to film is so hard. It's much more trying to find the right light, right shot, right sound. Andrea edits constantly, and you never get that moment of the audience telling us that it worked. By going on VBC we get that reaction from the kids." Working with creative performers from diverse backgrounds gives the Virtual Babysitters Club a competitive edge — the ability to innovate and develop new programs. There are several in the works including Erin's Animal Adventure, an environmental education program featuring exotic animals that will be for people of all ages, with an emphasis on learning through enjoyment. Reilly and Hanford are also in the process of developing programming for seniors, which will launch this summer. Prior to COVID-19, Hanford worked with a family to provide care for an individual with dementia, and sees that as a population who could benefit from continued interaction. Senior activities are likely to include musical hours where participants can request favorite songs or hear classical musicals they grew up with and love. "Developing a senior program was the next logical step," Hanford said. "In the US alone there are over 40 million unpaid caretakers providing like 35 billion hours of unpaid care. We want to help those families by providing a great service for their senior loved ones." Hanford and Reilly also knew kids would be disappointed at missing birthday parties and summer camps. To help parents make up for what kids were missing out on, the VBC also offers online birthday parties, summer camps and magic shows. The activities have captured the attention of businesses who have paid for sessions on behalf of their employees. "Major corporations are coming to us — businesses, schools and hospitals — and they are using VBC for their working from home employees, because they want to help out, do something good for their employees, and increase their productivity," Reilly said. If you're interested, you can book a session on the Virtual Babysitters Club website.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Here's what it's like to travel during the coronavirus outbreak
More like this (3)
Take a look at how the wealthy are keeping their kids busy this summer, from socially distant horseback-riding lessons to $600 paddleboarding camps
Summer camps across the US are canceled as social distancing measures remain in place. Parents are...Summer camps across the US are canceled as social distancing measures remain in place. Parents are turning to creative — and often expensive — measures to keep their kids busy this summer, from hiring "quarantine buddies" to sending their kids to socially distanced horseback-riding lessons. Others are planning on sending their school-age kids to the country club for hours a day so they can improve their golf game over the summer. In Los Angeles, a preschool has started hosting word-of-mouth "wilderness camps," in which a van picks the kids up in the morning and takes them out for seven-hour excursions in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Jessica Bellofatto has been running a summer camp in East Hampton for five years. She charges $625 per person for a four-day session, during which her students spend four hours a day learning how to do yoga while balancing on a stand-up paddleboard. In a typical year, the paddleboard and yoga instructor sees registrations for her summer camp pouring in from February through April. In the summer of 2019, she had 150 campers — ages five to 13 — come through her camp. This year, with COVID-19 plowing through summer plans, Bellofatto was left in the lurch. With sessions beginning in a few weeks, she had hardly any sign-ups. That changed abruptly in the middle of May, Bellofatto said, when sleepaway camps started announcing closures. Suddenly, interest in her group outings skyrocketed. "I didn't have anything until 10 days ago and now I'm bombarded," Bellofatto told Business Insider. "I have no indoor space, just outside and we're on the water and in the sun. There's no better place to be." That said, she will still have to make some changes this year. That includes running groups of no more than eight kids at a time and changing her program's title. Instead of the word "camp," she said, "I might have to call them lessons or small group outings, depending on how we're allowed to operate." Bellofatto plans to charge clients her usual rate of $625, but adds that if people request to have fewer kids per group, the pricing will increase. "I have three families who have been quarantining together and they each have two kids, so they've booked me privately and the cost for them is $750 per child," Bellofatto said. Bellofatto's camp isn't the only option out there. With summer schools and day camps announcing closures due to COVID-19 and non-essential travel remaining an unpopular choice, wealthy parents have found themselves willing to pull out all the stops — and pay all the prices — to keep their kids engaged. "Kids have been sheltering in place for such a long time now staring at the same four walls and inundated by a sea of screens," said Tom Rosenberg, CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA). Virtual camps can be a good option, he told Business Insider, but he also anticipates more in-person options opening up in late June or early July. Jill Levin, West Coast advisor of the Tips on Trips and Camps consultancy service, emphasized that parents need to question how camps are going to comply with ACA and CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19. "That may entail reducing camp size, eliminating family style eating, changing how activities are run and more," she said. Welcome to summer camp — and its new alternatives — in the age of social distancing. Horseback-riding lessons and sports camps are taking on a different look For Sara H., a mother of two in Calabasas, California, sending her 12-year-old daughter to an equestrian camp solves the dilemma of having a bored pre-teen languishing around her hillside home. Workers at the barn, Sara told Business Insider, are adjusting to new social distancing guidelines. "I've seen them in action with masks because my daughter leases a horse there," she said. But even with precautions in place, much of her daughter's camp instruction this summer will be performed via headset in a horse arena. "They all wear masks except when they ride, so she'll wear Airpods and her trainer will talk to her while she watches her from afar," Sara said. These hands-off lessons run $350 per week. That's in addition to the $150 monthly cost of renting the horse one day a week, which is offset by her daughter's manual work at the stable. "Luckily, she loves taking care of the horses," Sara added. In Orange County, Mary Adams, a 41-year-old mother of three boys, said she'll be looking to the country club this summer so her sons can improve their golf game. She plans to take each of her boys, ages seven, nine, and 12, to the club for about four hours a day, three to four times per week. She'll be golfing too, just not with them. One catch to that plan, she says, is that you have to have your own golf cart. "These kids own their own push carts," said Adams, who didn't want to reveal the cost of their country club membership or the added golf fees for fear of breaching her contract. Back on Long Island, 52-year-old Southampton surf instructor Chris Clarke doesn't predict a lull in his private surf lessons this summer. One key difference from past seasons: He'll only work with kids who need more of a surf guide; total beginners need not apply. "I'll tell them to go left or turn right and I'm there to keep them safe," he said. But having a surf buddy tag along with a kid isn't cheap: Clarke charges $200 for one hour with one child and $150 for each additional young person after that. Even with the water temperature currently hovering around 47 degrees, Clarke says he's been taking a couple of twelve-year-olds out for the past couple of months. "These kids come prepared with all the right gear and they just love the water," he said. "Their mom just needs someone to watch them and make sure they're safe." Quarantine buddies and no-contact karate lessons When a mother of two in the San Francisco Bay Area had no luck pinning down a part-time babysitter for her six-year-old daughter during quarantine, she mentioned her plight to her daughter's kindergarten teacher. The solution presented itself right then and there. "She shocked us when she said she would be up for the job," said the mom, who requested to remain anonymous to protect her professional reputation. Instead of signing her daughter up for summer camp like she's done in previous years, the mom now plans to shell out $420 for three hours of private summer school instruction four days a week — so that the child can learn new skills, and the parent can get some peace and quiet while lessons take place in the backyard. "I don't even remember what three hours of silence sounds like, but I can't wait to find out," she said. "I don't even remember what three hours of silence sounds like, but I can't wait to find out." Kelly, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mother of two in Culver City, California, who didn't want her last name revealed to protect her family, opted to hire someone to come in and play with her kids and help with their schoolwork after being quarantined for six weeks. "Our weekend nanny is a special ed teacher in her late twenties, so I hired her to come hang out," Kelly said. She's the kids' "quarantine buddy," there to help with the kids while the parents stay at home, too. "She helps with Zoom school and she speaks Spanish, so she keeps up their fluency," she added. She's also taking her kids to private karate and music lessons. "Our karate class moved to Zoom and that wasn't working for my three- and five-year-old, so I told the studio to suspend my account," Kelly said. The owner came back with another offer: For $140 a month, he would teach Kelly's kids in 30-minute, no-contact private lessons. "We have to park in the back and go through the back entrance and they put a bunch of kickboxing bags in the window that faces the street so people can't see inside," Kelly said. For their 25-minute, $30 music class, the teacher sits six feet away and wears a mask while instructing her son's guitar lesson. The lessons cost as much as they did pre-pandemic, so she's continued to be automatically billed for karate. She pays the music teacher through Venmo. Schools are adapting, too In Los Angeles, a small preschool known for the "forest school" component of its curriculum has pivoted to hosting word-of-mouth wilderness camps for children ages five through 12. The program costs $100 per day per child, and it only accepts six to eight children. "We're a very small company and keeping it small is the only way we can operate without having to obtain permits from state parks," Christopher, the director of the school, told Business Insider. He requested that his last name be withheld to protect his school and the families who attend. Christopher noted that he's currently operating with an even smaller group than usual to maintain safe social distancing in his 15-passenger van. "I'll remove one of the benches in the van so the kids are spaced out and they'll be required to wear masks while in transit," he said. Wilderness camp runs seven hours a day. "Parents drop their kids off in a public park and we put the kids in a van and drive out to our location, which is often in the Santa Monica Mountains or Malibu," he added. "Parents drop their kids off in a public park and we put the kids in a van and drive out to our location, which is often in the Santa Monica Mountains or Malibu." Then there's Adderley School, a Los Angeles musical theater workshop that has long offered in-person group classes and camps. This year, the school has decided to pivot away from its usual business model and to instead host "Broadway in the Backyard," a social distancing summer camp. Using host families' homes, groups of no more than seven kids will congregate for week-long sessions of singing, dancing, and socializing — and parents can remain on-site to supervise if they wish. Katie S., a 37-year-old stay-at-home mother of two who didn't want to reveal her last name for fear of social backlash, will send her daughter to an Adderley camp in their friend's backyard. For $350, the seven-year-old will spend three hours per day singing and dancing with four of her friends. "We usually spend our summers in Europe," Katie said, "but this year we had to figure out a different way to give everyone some space and keep the kids occupied."SEE ALSO: The pandemic has given the 1% even more ways to show how much money they have. Here are 6 new status symbols among the ultrawealthy. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: What makes 'Parasite' so shocking is the twist that happens in a 10-minute sequence
I’ve tossed any pretense of limiting screen time for our kids in our home. Desperate times...I’ve tossed any pretense of limiting screen time for our kids in our home. Desperate times calls for desperate measures. But lucky for parents, there’s a slew of new, entertaining, and educational videos that can both keep kids occupied and prevent their brains from turning into mush, especially since it looks like …Read more...
School lunches—and the policies that shame the kids of parents who have lunch debt—are in the...School lunches—and the policies that shame the kids of parents who have lunch debt—are in the news again. A school in New Jersey is reportedly now banning students from extra-curricular activities, such as dances and field trips, if their parents owe more than $75. It’s a terrible policy that replaces its previous…Read more...