"Hope Has Not Been Canceled" - that is the theme that the members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland County (BGCCC) have adopted for summer 2020. At a time when many organizations and businesses have been forced to close their doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, BGCCC has found a way to continue serving kids throughout this crisis.
On March 13, 2020, NC Governor Roy Cooper issued statewide orders and restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19 in North Carolina. Like so many other organizations, BGCCC also had to close its doors to youth, but the closure would not be permanent. "Club staff and community leaders had anticipated the governor's mandates and had already formulated a plan to keep serving our community's most needy children," says Joshua Propst, BGCCC executive director.
Working with the school system and other local organizations, the BGCCC organized more than 80 community volunteers per day to deliver meals throughout the county. At the same time, BGCCC created a Club@Home virtual club for kids to access online activities designed to keep them engaged with learning and connected to positive adult role models. Even while the club was closed, it maintained contact with more than 100 of its members through online interactions.
"Our board of directors also tasked us with reopening as soon as possible if conditions were deemed safe for children," says Propst. "Club administration reviewed guidelines from Centers for Disease Control, the NC Department of Health and Human Services and the Cleveland County Health Department, and consulted with other Boys & Girls Clubs before making the decision to reopen the Club on June 15, 2020."
With board approval, the BGCCC reopened for the summer program serving a limited number of participants: 40 children at the main site and 20 teenagers at the Mable Hamrick Whisnant Teen Center. Of course, Covid-19 required significant changes to the daily program.
"Now, all students, staff and visitors must be pre-screened for a fever and verify they are not symptomatic prior to entering the building. Immediately upon entry, they receive a clean face mask to be worn all day except when eating and in the gym," says Propst. "Students and staff members are also required to practice social distancing and wash their hands routinely throughout the day. Students stay with their same counselor and age group for the duration of the day and rotate through activity spaces." Activity spaces are sanitized every hour.
"Social distancing, wearing a mask and hourly sanitization have been tough, but our staff is ready to do whatever it takes to build great futures and keep kids safe," says Propst. While at the club, students can participate in STEM activities, learn computer skills, play sports and games, learn about nutrition and healthy life choices and create artwork - all under the watchful eyes of caring adult mentors. BGCCC has also partnered with several day camps to enhance the program and ensure that activities remain fun and engaging for kids all summer. The Banker's House is providing two weeks of STEM Camp, the Cleveland County Arts Council is providing three weeks of arts camp, and SonRidge Farm will be providing day trips to the farm. Club members can also participate in swimming and golf lessons through a partnership with Shelby City Park.
The BGCCC has provided a welcome relief from the monotony of Covid-19 quarantine and a much-needed childcare service to working parents.
"We've had so many parents express how happy they are for their kids to finally have a place to go again during the summer. It allows them to go back to their jobs without worrying whether their children will be safe," says Robin Ledford, BGCCC unit director.
The Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland County is a 501c3 notfor- profit agency serving children ages 6-18 with after-school and summer enrichment programs in three locations in Shelby. For more information visit www.bgcclevelandcounty.org, follow them on Facebook at "CCBoysandGirlsClub" or call 704-471-2582