As businesses slowly and safely reopen across the state, so too does the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan. Monday, they opened its doors to youth of essential personnel.
“The idea for us to open was just through a huge need throughout the community. We did a survey within our membership base and we had a high percentage of parents who were essential workers,” said Chief Operations Officer Gavin McGuire. “We answered the call that our community and members had. “It was vital that we open.”
COVID-19 forced the Boys and Girls Club to close its doors in March. However, their commitment and dedication to the community never faded.
“We have still been active…We still provide a lot of case management as well as mental health support. We’re providing food, non-perishable goods, and housing essentials,” said McGuire.
“We also morphed our staff to help families with call logs and mental wellness checks and really just providing that support to families.”
Part of that support has come through the creation of virtual clubs, an online alternative to physically meeting. The Michigan Chronicle previously highlighted how one of the virtual clubs also served as a fundraiser and brought out celebrities like Big Sean, Hill Harper, and Jerome Bettis.
“It’s been a blessing. The virtual club is something that has helped with mental health in giving youth a break, giving staff a break, giving them a chance to relax and see each other,” said area director Chris Kyles. “It’s been a bonus for staff, members, and our parents.” Once a need to reopen was established, staff-led an intensive cleaning process and consulted on how to establish new protocols.
“We worked with a lot of different operations officers from companies and corporations to see the best practices they were following. More importantly, we followed the CDC, federal, state, and local guidelines as it relates to social distancing and safety,” said McGuire.
Keeping safety a number one priority, the Boys and Girls Club limited the reopen to 16 kids and are monitoring temperatures of youth and staff. An ample supply of personal protection equipment is also on hand. New programming is being offered too. Specialty camps will feature college/career development, entrepreneurship, and STEM resources.
As the club continues to adapt amid uncertain times, reopening provides some familiarity and encouragement. “It’s good to actually be in the club as a leader and see the staff…good to see some kids and some smiling faces as we take steps forward,” said Kyles.
McGuire agreed and said, “Our kids have been connected with us virtually which is great, but the thing that makes us special and our kids special is the family and community bond we have in person.”
To strengthen that bond, in addition to having a physically safe space, the club is ensuring an emotionally safe environment too. Not only is there access to social workers, but Kyles said the club has been proactively preparing staff.
“The entire staff was trained on helping with social and emotional development. We take ongoing training to deal with trauma, especially from COVID-19.” Prioritizing emotional well being extends beyond just the youth. “For our staff, we provide mental wellness training on how to cope and best practices during these times. We also have weekly check-ins for our staff just to make sure they have a channel to talk about how they are feeling,” said McGuire.
“We make sure they are up on information not only for what we are doing for the club, but key bits of information and protocol that can help them and their families…we are giving them the tools they need to make sure they are whole.”
Adjusting hasn’t been easy, but McGuire knows Detroit to be resilient and is appreciative of the support of the city.
“During these uncertain times, that’s the thing that keeps me calm knowing we have the support…it’s good to see the community rallying together.”
The Boys and Girls Club plans to open its doors to more youth once officials deem it safe. Until then, the virtual club continues weekdays.
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