Boys and Girls Clubs still serving at-risk youths during stay-at-home order
Financial instability. Food insecurity. An overall sense of uncertainty.
The biggest stressors families face during a global health crisis are often amplified for at-risk youths, many of whom are struggling with a disrupted routine, a lack of resources and the closure of their local Boys and Girls Clubs, organization leaders said.
Gone are structured after-school programs, the assurance of a meal, and the face-to-face contact with peers and trusted mentors. Their home lives are likely becoming more chaotic, too, with family members losing income or working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hoping to provide support and stability to kids and teens who need it most, suburban Boys and Girls Clubs have sprung to action to offer virtual clubs, meal deliveries, "grab-and-go" activity kits and other services that comply with social distancing.
"One of the biggest unique challenges is this sense of separation the kids are experiencing from the norm," said Drew Glassford, CEO for the Dundee Township chapter. "The virtual program allows that emotional connection to continue when kids are feeling the most stressed they've felt in a long time."
Using the Zoom videoconferencing platform, club members and leaders have congregated daily to show off crafts they've completed, recipes they've tried, or academic challenges they've overcome, Glassford said. They've also had an opportunity to share their feelings and concerns in a safe, albeit virtual, space.
Similar initiatives and "social-emotional check-ins" have been implemented at club chapters statewide, including Lake County and Elgin, which also covers South Elgin, Streamwood and Schaumburg.
Though each club has its own challenges, many were equipped to make the operational shift as soon as the stay-at-home order was issued, said Bryan Soady, executive director for the organization's Illinois Alliance.
"It is an unprecedented time, but it's not an unprecedented program," he said. "We've got some heavy days ahead, (but) our focus is always on the kids first. We want to be able to provide what they need when they need it."
Some clubs are working to increase the availability of computers and internet access for their members. Others are creating boxes filled with activities and essentials.
For kids who rely on the Boys and Girls Club for daily meals, the Lake County chapter is partnering with the Northern Illinois Food Bank to deliver food to their homes, CEO Cesilie Price said. A similar program was implemented in Dundee Township using private donations and food prepared by local restaurants.
The Elgin chapter started a "Slash the Trash" challenge to encourage members to get out of the house, pick up litter and engage in a positive, productive experience, CEO Cathy Russell said.
In addition to serving their members, Dundee Township club leaders are providing extra levels of community support, such as sewing masks and opening two club sites as emergency child care centers for kids of essential workers.
"We really care about the experiences our communities and families are going through," Glassford said. "We want to make a difference. We're using as many resources as we have to offer what we can through this crisis."