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Free Program Helps Find Local Sitters

FORT MEADE, Md. -- Airmen now have another option when it comes to choosing a caretaker for their children, pets and homes and even tutors.

Sittercity helps connect people who need babysitters, nannies, pet sitters, tutors, housekeepers and adult caregivers with reputable and trusted service providers. Now, the Department of Defense has funded the membership cost so servicemembers can take advantage of the program for free.

The original vision of Sittercity when it was founded back in 2001 was to create a place on the internet where parents could go to find that perfect care provider for their family, said Melissa Anderson, the president of Sittercity's Corporate Division.

"We invented the concept of matchmaking for care providers," she said.

The program allows military parents to post jobs with the requirements of what they consider to be the perfect sitter. They can include specifications like sitters who have access to military installations or military-subsidized care providers.

Once the job is posted, sitters apply directly to that job. The parents receive targeted cover letters through email explaining the sitters' qualifications. Then, the parents can choose from the applicants which one best suits their needs. The communications go directly through the site until they feel comfortable enough to connect with them personally.

"On average, each job post gets 11 applicants," Anderson said. "We connect a military family with a care provider every seven minutes."

Tech. Sgt. Tanya King, of the 446th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and her family took advantage of the service after they made a permanent change of station to a place where they had no family members.

"It was pretty simple," King said of her experience using Sittercity. "There are thousands of childcare providers on the site, and you can narrow them down to specific things. Being military, there are times when our child is sick we can't just leave work to go pick up our kid from daycare. We were able to find sitters who would watch our daughter if she was sick and would come out to the base and pick her up. We also have a dog, so one of our criteria was that the sitter would be willing to care for the dog too."

The care itself is not free.

"The parents have to pay for the care provided, and that is all negotiated through the parents and the provider. In the job posting, the parents will give a range of what they're comfortable paying, so the sitter will have an idea before applying," Anderson said.

Sittercity is accessible to military members around the world, so members who are moving from an overseas location to a stateside location can begin finding a sitter before they even arrive in country.

"We see lots of uses of Sittercity from families who [have a deployed member] or who have [moved] and they are in a location where they don't have family members to help them care for their children," Anderson said.

King said because of the thousands of options her family had for childcare providers, they didn't feel like they were pressured to leave their child with someone who they weren't totally comfortable with.

"There were so many choices, we were able to schedule interviews with our top 10 choices, and we really got a feel for the sitters," King said. "We really got an idea of the kind of care that could be provided, so we were able to find that needle in a haystack. The woman who we chose takes a learning approach to childcare as opposed to just babysitting. She actually uses it as an opportunity to teach her sign language. Had we not had so many choices, we probably wouldn't have found that needle in the haystack."

Not only does Sittercity help military families find sitters, especially in secluded areas, but it helps spouses find jobs as well.

"We are a proud member of the -Military Spouse Employment Program] and we recruit military spouses to work on our site," Anderson said. "We employ thousands of military spouses. We have military families on both sides of the equation."

For more information on how to get a free Sittercity membership, visit www.Sittercity.com/DOD.

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