Published May 20, 2020 13:46
Strange. Unprecedented. Uncertain. Whichever label we choose to describe these times, the subtext is the same — a need for stability.
That’s where charitable organizations in Winnipeg and across the country step in. Nonprofits are essential to communities, and lifelines and community hubs for our most vulnerable populations. The Boys and Girls Club of Winnipeg is one of those lifelines and community hubs. Our role during this pandemic hasn’t changed, except that the needs of those vulnerable populations have grown exponentially.
The Boys and Girls Club movement has served Canadian kids and youth and their families for more than a century. We have navigated world wars, the Great Depression, economic recessions and, now, a pandemic. Through it all, we continue to offer safe spaces for kids and teens.
Our clubs help young people experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, build positive relationships and develop confidence and skills for life. The backbone of our organization is our people: our exceptional and dedicated program staff spend time with young people. They are program facilitators, listeners, and role models.
The time they spend with our club kids is time spent in after school, youth, education, sports and leadership programs. Through our programs, through relationship-building and mentoring, we strive to create a sense of belonging. We let kids be free to be themselves despite their daily challenges. It is one of our core values.
At a time when children and youth need our organization the most, our facilities are closed. With social isolation and physical distancing the norm, a sense of belonging and connection has become even more important — and even more difficult to maintain.
Young people are struggling. We’ve heard from our Club kids. They miss their friends. They miss their program leaders. Some parents are witnessing a deterioration in the mental health of their kids. Organizations such as Kids Help Phone are experiencing a marked increase in the need for their services.
Parents are also feeling the pressure, and experts predict things will get tougher. As physical distancing measures relax, the demands will be greater. More people will be out of work, or feeling financial strain, and more will be looking to charitable organizations for help.
The good news is that Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg has the experience and the history to guide kids through the pandemic, to help them understand what has happened to the world, and to offer them stability, alongside their parents and families. Our programs are rooted in supporting kids’ mental health, in helping ease anxieties and fears, in navigating the effects of trauma. In short, we know what kids need.
A recent study conducted by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg shows that young people who participate in club programs make healthier choices and are better protected from negative social outcomes. And an outcome study spearheaded by Boys and Girls Clubs of South Coast B.C. in Vancouver demonstrated that club members are better at establishing positive relationships and building interpersonal skills, and have a stronger sense of belonging and acceptance.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg are adapting, as we always have, but our focus remains the same.Here in Winnipeg, our club has operated for 43 years. Annually, we serve 3,700 kids and teens in our 12 after-school sites. Our organization prides itself in offering all of our programs and services free of charge to remove cost as a barrier to participation. This would not be possible without the support we have enjoyed over these past 43 years.
More than ever, we are committed to families in our community. Despite limited resources, our club has been tackling food insecurity by delivering food and critical care packages to families, running virtual programming for kids and teens, and connecting with young people online to offer counselling and one-to-one support.
We have always tailored our programs and services to meet the needs of our city and we will continue to do so. In the midst of this pandemic, our community’s kids are fragile. The pandemic has created budgetary and operational pressures on our club. It’s critical for our organization to have the strength and capacity to reopen our doors, and adapt our programs to meet the evolving needs of children.
Even though the challenges ahead are daunting, we are ready to serve.