On any given day during what we might now refer to as “normal” times, the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County would welcome 400 to 500 kids at their Immokalee facility, and 500 to 600 in Naples. The Collier County Boys & Girls Club, like its affiliates nationwide, provides an after-school and summer sanctuary for students. Programs encompass mentorship, academic learning, physical wellbeing, and personal development. The model embraced by the Boys & Girls Club is intended to provide essential supports for children who may for any reason lack access to that foundational structure in their personal and home lives. What’s more, it’s been shown to work.
Changing Course to Meet Need
So, how does a nonprofit organization whose mission revolves around meaningful in-person interaction with approximately 1000 kids daily pivot when in-person interaction is no longer an option? In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s exactly the question CEO Megan McCarthy and her team have been working hard to answer. The Club’s response has been two-fold.
On the programmatic side, they turned efficiently to virtual distribution of daily lessons and activities through their website. At the onset of the crisis, when schools were closing and it was becoming increasingly clear that kids would be staying home, they created and distributed approximately 1000 on-the-go kits—bags of school and activity supplies so students could better join in with virtual tasks from home. Each day, about 8 to 10 new posts are shared. Content is age-appropriate for elementary, middle and high school grades. In addition to English, materials are available in Spanish and Creole.
A secondary objective was to ensure that kids still received the meals they’d get at the Club. McCarthy’s leadership team took care not to duplicate the meal distribution service being offered by Collier County Public Schools, and have prioritized weekends, including breakfast and lunch on Saturdays and Sundays. On select days, the Harry Chapin Food Bank comes to the Club to hand out meal kits, and the Club’s kitchen is still able to provide limited hot food service. They are committed to keeping this up as long as there is need.
Lessons Learned and Silver Linings
McCarthy, who spearheaded the Boys & Girls Club’s involvement with Future Ready Collier, notes that, despite the obvious challenges that will likely persist for some time to come, there are positive outcomes, with collaboration and innovation topping the list.
Within the national network of Boys & Girls Clubs, there has been impressive communication. McCarthy is in regular contact with the other Florida Clubs, as leaders explore evolving best practices and safety concerns. The scope of the Collier County Club’s response has been an asset. For instance, the New Rochelle, NY affiliate linked their programs page to Collier County’s so their kids could also have access to the online activities.
Locally, shared resources and collaborative efforts have helped to optimize reach to at-need kids and families. McCarthy applauds the Collier County Public School’s quick action, and mentions Future Ready Collier and the Naples Children and Education Foundation as being integral in distributing information and facilitating necessary connections and conversations.
And, while no one wants to end human interaction altogether, there is a lot to be learned from how much can successfully be managed virtually. McCarthy is considering, “How do you keep what worked so well before, and add in things that maybe didn’t seem possible?” She continues to observe, “I don’t know how you come through something like this and don’t have at least a partial change in operation.” The hope, of course, is that on-site programming can be cautiously resumed in the coming months. But there’s equal acknowledgement of how digital resources could be used to help even more kids.
A Time to Act — Together
Certainly, collaboration has been a primary driver for the entire Future Ready Collier network, with its benefits particularly crystalizing during times of increased need. As an individual leader, McCarthy is aware that, “Everyone looks to the CEO to make the decision.” There’s real value in asking, “How can we collectively work together to help kids in all the areas they need help in?”
The full effects of the pandemic crisis on kids and families won’t be known for years. For now, McCarthy will continue to work closely with her team, with Future Ready Collier, and with all their local partners to ensure that students are nurtured and cared for. We don’t have to have all the answers to know it’s important to act, all the same.