Serving at-risk kids during pandemic: Online bingo, porch deliveries and tons of phone calls
There are lots of Zoom meetings, phone calls, food deliveries and internet fun, but agencies say connection with at-risk kids can be very serious
Boys & Girls Club staffers have sung Happy Birthday on Zoom to more than 60 kids so far. Big Brothers Big Sisters are holding virtual bingo games.
Christian teen skatepark/concert hall/coffee shop Rocketown is teaching a photography class on Google Hangouts. FrankTown inner-city youth agency is delivering meals to 47 families whose kids used to eat at school.
Play Like a Girl is planning to connect more than 100 girls with tech and science experts for a virtual summit in June.
These and other Middle Tennessee agencies are scrambling during stay-at-home pandemic days to stay connected with at-risk kids they serve.
Several of those agencies have pivoted hard toward more internet services and home deliveries to keep connected to kids dealing with poverty, food insecurity, unstable home lives or other trauma.
Agency leaders said that connection is even more important during coronavirus-forced isolation and a massive economic slow down.
“This is a stressful, uncertain, and just plain scary time for everybody, but especially for young people. If you’re a young person at home, you just lost the stability of going to school and your clubs,” said Jennifer Wheeler Buhrman, chief development officer for Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee.
Those clubs, pre-pandemic, hosted 700 disadvantaged children and teens each day.
“If your parent lost their job, you might worry about the lights staying on, or if your parent is an essential worker, you’re worrying about them getting sick or bringing the virus home,” Buhrman said.
“When we stay connected with our club members, we can bring some stability back into their lives.
Chris Barnhill, executive director of FrankTown, which serves Williamson County’s at-risk children, said it is “imperative” to stay connected with those kids for their physical and mental health.
“They need to know we care about them, and reassurance they are NOT alone!” Barnhill wrote in an email.
All of the agencies said they are delivering food and other essentials to those that need them. Most are having one-on-one conversations on the phone or online with as many kids as they can.
Even with herculean efforts, though, administrators concede they are reaching a fraction of the children the agencies might normally serve.
Smaller agencies also are struggling with losing staff as donations drop during the economic slow down. Play Like a Girl recently laid off one of its two staffers.
The remaining staffer, agency founder Kimberly Clay, has reached about a dozen girls individually and has made porch deliveries to nearly 50 girls. But the agency’s programming and summits normally serve about 1,000 girls, Clay estimated.
And she just misses hugging her girls.
“It’s most challenging as a clinician not being able to provide emotional, physical support when a girl breaks down,” Clay said, “when she expresses feelings of walls closing in because she’s stir crazy.”
Agency administrators said it’s important to stay in touch with kids in whatever ways and at whatever levels they can.
Rocketown director Kenny Alonzo said this week his agency was able to help a student in distress. They found out the student needed help because that student’s friends contacted a Rocketown staffer to report the student had made “alarming” posts on a private social media page.
The staffer reached the student’s parents, who got the student help.
“I would say it is extremely important to stay connected,” Alonzo said, “and to be intentional to reach out to youth during this time of isolation.”
Reach Brad Schmitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.
Here’s a quick look at five agencies serving at-risk kids in Middle Tennessee and the ways they’ve come up with to stay connected to clients during stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee
Before: Last year, the group had 1,013 “big-little” matches in the Nashville area
Now: Matches and training are happening on Zoom, and bigs and littles, with parents’ permission, connect on the phone or video or social media platforms; activities like virtual Bingo have been launched
To donate: MentorAKid.org
Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee
Before: Serving 700 kids a day with programming and snacks in club buildings in low-income areas throughout the Nashville area
Now: Reaching “hundreds of youths” with online videos of read alongs, painting and dance classes, math challenges and more; club directors are calling parents to check on kids and connect them to needed services; delivering 300 meals in Franklin and 1,000 snack packs in Madison.
To donate: BGCMT.org
FrankTown Open Hearts
Before: Hosting and giving snacks to 45 to 90 children a day in as many as 7 programs — including horseback riding, auto repair, robotics and gymnastics — running at the same time
Now: Calling about 100 families once a week and delivering meals to 47 families three times a week
To donate: FrankTownOpenHearts.com
Before: About 250 teenagers a week participated in skatepark, after-school programming, skate church, counseling and other activities
Now: Hundreds participate online in skatepark live feeds, virtual game nights, trivia, cooking classes, virtual counseling, online photography class and other activities; staffers and volunteers make dozens of weekly food deliveries to families who need them
To donate: Rocketown.com
Play Like a Girl
Before: Reached more than 1,000 girls through school-based clubs, lunchtime mentoring program and STEM Saturday program at the Microsoft store in Green Hills
Now: Reached 12 girls individually through phone calls, 48 girls through porch deliveries and dozens of others through online meetings
To donate: IPlayLikeAGirl.org