Boys & Girls Club Busy Despite Closed Doors
Last updated 4/17/2020 at 3:17pm
The classrooms and hallways of its closed clubhouse on Gallimore Road may be silent and still these days, but the Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club is buzzing with activity anyway.
Staff members are working from home, coming up with a plethora of imaginative ways to reach out to the club's 400 members during the schools' shutdown.
"We feel for our club families and the tough position this puts many of them in," said Sarah St. Marie, the executive director. "We greatly miss the 240 club kids we've been accustomed to seeing each day in our after-school programs. We live in such a generous community, and we're thankful to each business and organization that has stepped up to care for the vulnerable population living in Transylvania County. Our club is more than happy to do its part."
The club, with 400 members, the largest youth organization in Transyl-vania County, normally has an average daily attendance of 240 school-age children crowding its 25,000-square-foot building each weekday after school.
But with the pandemic's quarantine orders, those children are now homebound.
Since its mission is to nurture "productive, caring and responsible citizens," the club is determined to fill at least some of their time with positive learning and socializing experiences, to supplement what the schools are doing remotely to continue their education. Club staffers are using socal media, such as Facebook and Instagram, centering on the internet and telephones.
These are a few of the new initiatives:
•Online story time/story book videos with a staff member. Each day at 3 p.m. a staff member reads a book live on the club's Facebook page. On Monday they began two weeks reading "Holes," a novel by Louis Sachar.
•Virtual day assistance. The club has set up an email address, where families can reach out and ask for help with a school's virtual day homework.
Club staffers say this work can be difficult to navigate with all that parents are juggling, so the club offers support.
•Teddy bear scavenger hunt around town (in cars). Several organizations participated in this, placing teddy bears outside their establishments and en-couraging parents to drive around and look for them with their children.
•Video workout sharing on Facebook.
The club is sharing at-home workouts or activities that families can do together.
•Good character and citizenship awareness campaign on Facebook.
The club is putting different activities on its social media account that encourage children to continue to learn what it means to be a good citizen.
This includes involvement with another organization, Elves of Brevard, in a project to make cards and notes to cheer up isolated elderly people.
•Weekly recipe posts on Facebook. The club is posting easy but healthy recipes, using ingredients families may already have in their pantry.
"How the club has remained a vital force in the lives of our children in these trying times is a real tribute to our staff," said Don Gentle, president of the Board of Directors. "I'm just so proud of them all, how they've reached out and come up with ways to overcome a very difficult situation."
"And the team continues to brainstorm creative ways to stay in touch," added St. Marie. "Another example is how our membership director, Tamika Hunter, is in constant communication with our parents to ensure they are aware of the many resources available to them."
Hunter sends out a periodic newsletter to each member-family.
It contains up-to-minute information designed to help them cope.
"I try to stay abreast of services and benefits that are available to residents of Transylvania County," said Hunter, "and then I pass that information on."
Jamie Atkinson, the club's operations director, can tick off a shopping list of other staff initiatives in her department.
"Caitlyn Murray, our education director, and Assistant Operations Director Emily Whitt have been working diligently to ensure that our social media content is full and shifted to ideas that kids and family members can do on their own," she said. "Everything from story time to posting a link with tons of free resources families can access.
"Courtney Hoffses, the teen services director, has found a way to move our junior staff training program that offers job training and possible employment to those 14 and over to Google Classroom. She's also working behind the scenes to offer her time to help those middle and high schoolers who may be struggling to get their virtual homework done.
"And Health and Wellness Director Devon Holmes has been finding us quality videos to put out there that encourage kids and families to stay moving. He's also been working in our garden, a job normally saved for the kids, to make sure our Harvest Project programming will be off and running when the kids come back."
Staffers said the times they're experiencing these days are making them especially thankful for the way the community has rallied to protect its children and vulnerable populations.
"Our immediate concern was how do we fulfill our mission 'to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens if we aren't seeing them daily," Whitt said. "A lot of that has been a learning experience of utilizing social media platforms to safely connect with our members, and even other kids in the community, while we go through this turbulent time together."
St. Marie agreed.
"I have been so impressed with the way our staff and the entire community has rallied during this time," she said.
Hunter, the membership director, is especially tuned into the club's relationship with the club's families.
"Part of my job is to ensure that our families are cared for and that their needs are being met," she said. "Our community has joined forces to ensure residents have information readily available at their fingertips."
Hunter also tries to stay connected to other youth advocates in the area. One way has been by attending weekly collaborative meetings, where rep-resentatives from such organizations as The Children's Center, The Family Place and the county Department of Social Services brainstorm on ways to meet the needs of families.
The club has worked with other organizations in more hands-on ways, too.
For instance, it said many of its member families use the services of Sharing House, a local organization that dispenses free goods and services to persons in need. Staff members have recently spent club hours volunteering at that organization.
Club officials think those kinds of meetings and contacts will become all-virtual now because of the stricter quarantine rules that went into effect Monday.
The club's resource development director, Kathleen de la Torre, said the club has sent out a "Constant Contact" email appeal to its donors asking them to also support Sharing House and its needs list of food and household items.
"We were very aware that some of the families we serve are vulnerable during this crisis and might need the support and services of Sharing House," she said.
Club Needs Support
And it's important for the overall community to continue supporting the Boys & Girls Club, itself, she added.
The club has had to cancel or postpone a number of fund-raising events, such as its March 25 Small Plates Wine dinner at the Falls Landing restaurant, the April 25 Luft Wasser Porsche Car Celebration and Supercar After-Party and the April 25 Tail Chaser 250 Adventure Bike Ride.
It has also postponed one of its biggest events of the year, the Bent River Farm Benefit Dinner, scheduled for May 30. No new date has been set for that.
De la Torre said the club is going ahead with its annual fund drive, in which a campaign mailing will address the impact of the pandemic crisis.
"Unfortunately, we won't gather our board together to launch our appeal this year," she said. "It's just not safe. I will send out the letters and ask our board members to reach out to our donors in whatever way feels natural to them. I know our community and our supporters will understand."
Individuals can donate at any time by going to the club's website, http://www.bgc transylvania.org.
"I feel very fortunate to live in this community, where there have been so many examples of joyful generosity," said de la Torre, "even in the midst of a devastating health crisis. We are continuing to evolve with this every day. I will say, I did not truly understand the impact these young adults and children had on my life on a daily basis... our kids, and their families have literally become a second family to many of us."