TAMPA — It can be a little tough for Danielle O'Connor to find a moment to relax.
As a mother of two toddlers with an Army reservist husband deployed abroad and a budding green clothing business, O'Connor is strapped for time to be sure.
"Not having the kids for a couple of hours is a big thing for me," she said.
She toyed with the idea of joining a gym, but the cost of a membership combined with that of child care made the prospect daunting. Then O'Connor, who lives in Seminole Heights, received an e-mail outlining a new program offered by the U.S. Department of Defense and the YMCA.
Under the $31-million initiative, free memberships to YMCA branches nationwide are offered to the families of active duty reservists and certain independent personnel like military recruiters. The program aims to offer some of the benefits enjoyed by families living on military bases, which typically have workout facilities, to those that don't.
The service also helps relieve some of the stress that comes with having a family member stationed abroad, said Laura Dye, spokeswoman for the YMCA.
In Hillsborough County, 28 families have signed up since the program started in the beginning of October.
The YMCA offers health and well-being programs including a yoga class and short-term child care while parents work out. A family membership in Tampa costs generally costs $77 each month.
O'Connor's husband, Scott Lambert, began a one-year deployment to Kosovo in April, leaving her to care for their children. The couple ran El Diablo, a watering hole, out of their home. But the business has been temporarily closed since Lambert left.
O'Connor and a friend own an organic clothing company called Chi Chi Amor, which imports and recycles Mayan fabrics from Guatemala into children's clothing.
O'Connor says she can only work in five-minute increments most days while caring for her two children, Marley, 3, and Liv, 15 months. On Saturdays, she makes time to go to St. Petersburg to sell her clothing at a daylong outdoor market. The weekly trip leaves her with a $100 babysitting bill.
For O'Connor, the program gives her an opportunity to relax while having her children cared for.
"Exercise is a big stress reliever in times like this. With my husband away, I could see myself getting depressed easily," she said.
That the program is helping people like O'Connor is evidence of its early success, says Dye.
"If we can help just one parent to work out and exercise while their child is well kept, then that's the impact we're looking to have," Dye said.
Joshua Neiderer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.