Healthcare and emergency workers are turning to Boys & Girls Clubs in numerous cities to provide emergency care for their children as schools close their doors and parents wrestle with difficult decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many nurses, paramedics and other critical personnel have no other safe place for their kids while they care for the sick and keep health systems running.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota responded to the request of Governor Tim Walz to provide emergency childcare when he ordered schools to close. Club staff immediately began communicating with school district superintendents, senior hospital leaders, local emergency managements and mayors to ensure that Clubs meet community needs.
“Our mission is to serve youth who need us most, and right now, it is essential we provide this service so we have emergency and health care workers on the front lines,” said Mary Swingle, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota. Three sites are serving kids, but they are not open to regularly-attending Club members unless their caregivers are essential personnel which includes law enforcement, firefighters and court and correctional facility staff in addition to healthcare and emergency workers.
A hospital worker who found care for her child at Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota said her husband is deployed. She would have no one to look after her child if not for the Club. Other parents sent notes of thanks to Club staff, stating they didn’t have family members nearby who could lend a hand.
Clubs are providing a stable routine, fun activities, homework help and emotional support for youth who are adjusting to new environments and new friends. In some cases, children are affected by parents who are managing stressful work environments.
“The youth we are serving are scared,” said Mary. “They can’t process what is going on right now nor should the little children have to process what’s going on. Kids can leave their worries at the door.”
Club staff, who are coping with uncertain situations, are also getting support. The health system in central Minnesota conducted a webinar to educate staff about healthcare risks, sanitation procedures and protocol if someone appears sick.
In Washington state, 1.6 million kids are out of school for at least six weeks. Several Clubs across the state are offering extended hours and partnering with school systems to transport kids to Clubs and provide meals. Kids can play outdoors and use computers to complete virtual homework assignments.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties are operating Clubs in three Washington communities. Executive Director Brian Ace stays in close communication with human resources at local healthcare systems to understand their employees’ needs.
“The state of Washington was very clear that emergency childcare needs to be put in place,” Brian said. “Some youth have the ability to stay at home right now, and they should do so. We have to be there for the most vulnerable families.”
Teens, who are not being served in Benton and Franklin Counties, are being supported through virtual programming. Club staff are sending daily challenges to teens who can submit photos and videos of their work.
Without knowing how long schools will remain closed, Club leaders are preparing plans to minimize impact on their resources. Some are seeking out emergency grants, public funding and private contributions.
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