Boys & Girls Club programs are back, with safety precautionsSep 30, 2020 01:54PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart
Youth at the Midvale Boys & Girls Club stay active while social distancing during the summer. (Photo courtesy Midvale Boys & Girls Club)
By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]
Once again, the Midvale Boys & Girls Club is full of smiling faces.
“The kids are so excited to be here and so engaged in everything we’re doing,” said Presley Austin, area director of the Midvale Club. “I know they’re safe and they’re happy and they’re getting the homework help they need.”
On March 11, the building closed in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and the kids weren’t allowed back until July 1.
“It definitely was a struggle when they were out of school and home those four months,” said Austin. “What we saw was kids struggling with grades in online school. Younger kids struggled to turn things in or even get online. For teens, it was a struggle for them to even go to online school.”
During that time, Club staff worked from home but jumped in to help where they could.
“We started tutoring through Zoom and mentoring teens virtually,” Austin said. “We wanted to help them get back on track for the end of the school year.”
Austin reports that around 40 juniors and 20 teens were consistently joining the virtual programming that took place three times a week. Staff gave virtual cooking lessons, led virtual exercise classes and performed virtual science experiments.
At first, staff prerecorded videos and uploaded them to Facebook. “But we realized our kids aren’t on Facebook,” Austin said. “So then we focused on virtual live programming. Once we started doing that, more kids were participating. We were calling everyone down our list, inviting them to join the Zooms.”
The Club also ran a food pantry out of the building twice a week through the end of June. Pulp Lifestyle Kitchen, a local eatery, donated prepackaged meals with chicken, rice and veggies for families to drive by and pick up. During the school year, kids are fed dinner at the club, with the option of taking home meal boxes and backpacks full of food for the weekend.
Still, everyone was excited when the Club could resume regular programming.
“One thing parents told us was that kids started getting depressed from being home all the time,” Austin said. “They had nothing to do. They were gaining weight and being unhealthy. Our kids just needed the physical activity.”
During the months the Club was closed, the staff had time to prepare and plan for when they were able to come back. In particular, they brainstormed different activities where the kids can have fun while social distancing.
Activities included weekly hikes for the teens and outdoor project like making tie-dye T-shirts. The juniors played with hula hoops, made bird feeders and learned how sound travels through cups and string. The summer program operated for six weeks, much shorter than usual. Then the building was closed for a week for deep cleaning.
Staff had multiple training sessions on how to get back to the school year safely. Schools started Aug. 24. Within a few weeks, the younger age group was at capacity and a few spots remained open for teens.
“During the summer, numbers were low, so we were a little worried going into the school year,” Austin said. “Parents saw how we were structured before and didn’t feel safe bringing their kids. But we changed our entire structure to keep the kids safe. We keep the ratios low and keep the kids in one classroom, not rotating and being exposed to different people.”
Masks are required for everyone in the building at all times, and surfaces are regularly cleaned and sanitized.
Have any positives come from the pandemic? “For me, it was seeing how the staff worked together as a team and committed to helping our kids and families no matter what was needed,” Austin said. “Everyone wanted to be a part of handing out meals and doing virtual programming. It amazed me how the staff was willing to do anything to support the families and help out.”
Volunteers are not currently allowed in the building, but donations of food, cash or school supplies are always appreciated.
“It’s been a struggle, but I feel like we’ve done really well,” Austin said. “We haven’t had anyone test positive and we’ve been able to keep a really safe, clean environment for the kids.”