Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan prepares to make its reopening safe and healthy for youth

These last few months have rushed by with a whirlwind of changes for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan (BGCSM). Like a lot of nonprofits, the youth service organization has had to adapt to the disruptions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which has meant an extensive reorganization of its services and programming. And this month, it will be reinventing itself once again as it reopens the Dick & Sandy Dauch Club for children of essential workers.


"It's definitely been a roller coaster," says Jenée Graham, a program coordinator for BGCSM. "Especially because, when it first happened, we had so many plans moving forward and those things kind of came to a halt with the virus back in March."


BGCSM prides itself on embracing an entrepreneurial mindset and quickly pivoted to continue serving youth. Within four days of closing its Clubs, BGCSM launched the Virtual Club, which connects youth and staff through a mix of music, games, and other activities. More than 800 local children and teens have logged on, with a daily attendance of around 200 participants.


As far as pivots go, it's been a big transition for BGCSM. But, that said, they've got another big task ahead of them right now as they prepare to reopen the Dick & Sandy Dauch Club.


Safety first


The reopening, is in a limited capacity, focused on serving the families of first responders and essential workers, as opposed to the general public. In accordance with Michigan guidelines during the pandemic, the Clubs will also only be permitting youth from 6 to 12 years old to participate in this on-site programming.


"Frontline and essential workers are the heroes of our community," says Gavin McGuire, chief operations officer. "We want to make sure that we're supporting them by making sure their kids are safe and they don’t have to worry where they are going to be during these times."


With that in mind, BGCSM will be taking a series of newly developed precautions to protect youth, staff, and other visitors. Perhaps the most striking of these will be mandatory temperature checks for anyone interested in entering Club facilities to determine whether they are running a fever. In an effort to avoid large groups, one adult staff member will be on hand to supervise every four youth participating in Club activities. Stringent efforts will also be made to sanitize equipment and educate youth about social distancing and other ways they can keep themselves and others safe and healthy.


Beyond that, there will be a safety officer and nurse on hand at BGCSM facilities and a team of staff working remotely to keep up to date on the latest local, state, federal, and CDC guidelines pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic.


Revamping the Clubs for use during the pandemic has been a big project. BGCSM has created a brand-new operations manual to make sure everything adheres to best practices. Getting ready has involved everything from setting up a risk committee to ensure nothing has been missed, to physically moving equipment to comply with social distancing guidelines.


All efforts aside though, staff members like Area Club Director Chris Kyles will soon be resuming their traditional mission of working in-person with youth.


"Those families and youth need us now," he says. "We have plans to do it safely, so for us to be open and provide them with programs is awesome."


Addressing trauma


Beyond just reconfiguring its Clubs and programming to keep youth safe during the pandemic, BGCSM is also making a concerted effort to help staff look out for their mental and emotional well-being.


Graham, who directs programming at BGCSM's Dick & Sandy Dauch Campus in Detroit and has a background in social work, says right now youth involved with the virtual Clubs are regularly being asked about how they're doing as part of what is called a “Friday Feeling” survey.


"We're really monitoring whether their anxiety is going up or going down," she says. "About half have been feeling anxious about the things going on, according to the survey."


For youth who do share their names in the surveys, Graham tries to reach out and provide assistance, doing things like emailing their families tips on relaxing breathing techniques. She's also working on a social and emotional learning plan to help youth deal with anxiety issues.


Additionally, BGCSM has enlisted the Center for Youth Wellness (CYW) to help them with a series of trainings specifically geared toward giving its staff the resources they need to administer to the mental and emotional needs of youth during the COVID-19 crisis.


A San Francisco-based organization, CYW is dedicated to helping children and teens deal with the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress. Exposure to ACEs, which can include situations like household instability, abuse and neglect, and toxic stress can result in long-term physical and emotional health issues and reduced opportunities and make it difficult for people to form healthy relationships.


Detroit is at the top of the list of cities in the country in terms of exposure to ACEs, with about 40% of people having experienced them and about the same percentage experiencing two or more ACEs, according to analysis by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. A 2011-12 study by the Michigan Department of Community Health found Michigan youth experienced childhood trauma at a higher level than the national average.


CYW educator and registered nurse Karissa Luckett says while many of the ACEs her organization deals with are individually experienced, the COVID-19 pandemic has created situations where there are both individual and universal adverse experiences.


"Some families have been touched and impacted by losing a family member or going through severe illness," she says. "But we've all been socially isolated and had disruptions in our normal routines, which creates greater likelihood for depression and anxiety and even substance abuse and family violence."


The CYW trainings are aimed at assisting BGCSM help youth handle the trauma of the pandemic in an informed way that avoids retraumatizing people who may already be coping with other unrelated adverse experiences.


McGuire considers his staff to be frontline workers and feels the trauma assistance trainings are necessary tools for them.


"It's not a one-time training," he says. "It's an ongoing series of support to make sure we have the proper ecosystem and structure of support for the families and kids at the Club as well as our staff and team members during this time."


As Southeast Michigan's Boys & Girls Clubs embark on yet another new chapter, they are committed to continuing their new experiment with virtual Clubs and doubling down on their efforts to reimagine themselves in ways that will contribute to the economic mobility of families in the communities they serve. If anything, McGuire sees the current crisis as an opportunity for BGCSM to step up its efforts to help others.


"We've been serving Southeast Michigan for 94 years," he says. "And during this time, we're going to be here in an even greater way. Our help means more now to the community than ever during this tough time."

This article is part of a four-part series in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan exploring the impact on youth and local organizations serving youths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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