On March 13, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana, along with many organizations across the nation, had to close their doors temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Club staff had to think quickly to find new and creative ways to continue offering members the quality programming they find at the Clubs.
“I’m really proud of our response. Since we closed our doors on March 13th, our emphasis has been to focus on our mission, recreate relevancy, and ensure financial sustainability,” said Ryan Smiley, President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana.
Working together, the organization’s team created Club Connect, an online hub for members with information and resources including an e-learning assistance hotline, parent hotline, and quality online programming.
The E-learning Assistance Hotline (219-804-0741) is open 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and parents can call to request assistance with e-learning for their children. After receiving consent, two Club staff members will then schedule a Zoom meeting with a child to help them with school work.
“The hotline has been really well-received throughout our communities and spurred growth in membership,” Smiley said.
Parents who are looking for some emotional support, dealing with behavioral changes in their child(ren), or needing quality advice on how to speak with their child about what is happening in the world can call the Parent Hotline (also 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., Monday through Friday) (219-804-0780) to speak with the organization’s Director of Social Services.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana also recognized the need for a dinner program for members who may be struggling with food insecurity.
“Most of the school districts are providing breakfast and lunch for students, but our Clubs didn’t see many offerings for dinner. This prompted our Club to launch our member dinner program,” Smiley said. “Every Thursday at all but one of our Club sites, we offer a drive-through dinner pickup. As long as a Club member is in the car, we send them home with five take-and-bake dinners.”
Providing high-quality programs for kids which they normally receive in person at the Club, only online, was extremely important for Club staff.
“We’ve been offering virtual Club programming that focuses on healthy lifestyle tips and tricks, activities to get kids moving, academic resources, and even virtual college tours,” Smiley said. “We’re trying to keep those opportunities open for our members to continue to explore and have fun, just in a virtual setting.”
In pursuit of providing excellent services to members, Club staff also used the closure of Clubs to focus on training and are preparing to offer expanded services to members.
“We launched an online staff training portal with our director in training and development, and in conjunction with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, we’ve had approximately 180 staff members complete more than 500 online trainings in a variety of different capacities. The goal is our Clubs, program and staff will be better than ever when we reopen our doors,” Smiley said.
That additional training is about to be put to good use as Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana is set to reopen on June 1, at a limited capacity at first.
“We hope to start slow and ramp up over time, focusing on safety and following advice from the CDC and local health departments,” Smiley said. “Working with our national office and local health departments we’ve put together a pretty extensive new set of standard operating procedures to ensure the safety of our members and staff. That is our number one priority,” Smiley said.
Starting June 1, five of the 10 Clubs throughout Northwest Indiana will be open for summer camps. Those Clubs include Valparaiso, Portage, South Haven, Cedar Lake, and Duneland. Spots for members are on a first-come, first-served basis as space will be limited to ensure proper social distancing. An extensive list of safety protocols also has been created including no-contact, curbside drop-off and pick-ups, temperature checks and monitoring of members and staff, sanitizing stations, and giving individual members supply kits to avoid using communal supplies like crayons and markers. The kits will even have their own sanitizer and water bottle.
“We’re making plans to open again, knowing that it will be vastly different and new for us. We want to make sure we do it right so we’re going to ease ourselves into reopening in order to provide the best summer for kids,” Smiley said.
Knowing Club members and staff are eager to come back, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana is looking forward to being that safe and fun space once again.
“What we’re hearing most is our members miss socialization, a fun environment, and the relationship with the staff and friendships with other Club members. Kids are missing that social and emotional support and security that our Clubs provide, as well as the relationships that go along with our programming. We pride our Club Experience to be safe and fun for kids,” Smiley said. “Our Club staff is eager to re-engage with kids again. We’re all excited.”
Current and future Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana members can stay up-to-date on Club re-openings and safety procedures through the Club’s homepage of their website https://www.bgcgreaternwi.org/.