Covenant House Michigan gets creative with social activities to help at-risk youth

At Covenant House Michigan, our goal is centered on helping homeless, runaway, or at-risk youth. When the virus hit, we kept our emergency, 24-hour shelter running, but we had to close the intake of new residents and keep our youth on campus. One of the more difficult things I experienced during the shutdown was to give up social activities.

Like most of us, I was fortunate to have people to help me through this time; a family who stayed together and comforted each other. Our youth don’t have that, so who do they turn to for emotional support? They have our residential advisors who are there to not only guide them but to comfort them, to reassure them, to let them know that everything is going to be okay.

As we have seen, wearing masks and protective equipment and practicing social distancing, is very difficult for everyone, but especially for young people like our residents. We have had to be strict on how we were all going to live together in our two locations. During the lockdown, we had 45 in our emergency shelter and 20 in our short-term living shelter, and everyone had to adhere to those protocols.

The Department of Health worked with us, and they would come and help with the testing process. When some of our staff became ill, it was a scramble as to how we would work because we didn’t want to leave each shift with only one person. All those things had come together over time, and we had to figure out how we were going to deal with all of this. We had to learn about this pandemic and the virus and how we continue to go about our daily life interacting with people.

There was also the issue of trying to keep our youth on site. We have a rather large campus of five acres, and these young people who are used to being able to go out in the daytime were now mandated to stay on campus. Under normal times, they have the freedom to leave as long as they tell us where they’re going, and they obey a curfew.

Now, they couldn’t leave and it was very difficult for these young people to stay in the same place all day every day. We came up with things they could do to pass the time. There were virtual experiences they were able to participate in, like a drawing class, interactive videos, music, and a talent show. We had barbecues in the summertime and a carnival experience which kept them busy and passed the time on site.

If they did their chores, they earned an hour to be outside. A lot of them wanted to go and meet their friends in the abandoned houses, different places, and we couldn’t let them leave because it was not safe.

Gerald Piro is the nonprofit director of Covenant House. This entry is part of our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.
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