W. Va. Boys & Girls Clubs connect with kids, virtually

Jun 3, 2020 | by Brad Rowland

W. Va. Boys & Girls Clubs connect with kids, virtually

By: David Ibata

In a summer of continued social distancing and sheltering at home, two Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs in West Virginia are serving children and their families with a Virtual Club that promises to take kids on an "Adventure Around the World."

"This was born of absolute necessity," said Sarah Buckalew, unit director in Charleston, West Virginia. "When all the crazy changes started happening here with COVID-19 and as we tried to keep everybody safe and follow health department protocols, we still wanted to serve the community and fulfill our mission."

Doing so required developing a summer program that combines an online element with take-home projects. The nine-week program runs June 1-July 31 and is offered by Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs in Charleston and neighboring St. Albans, West Virginia.

Entities supporting the effort include 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a U.S. Department of Education grant program in coordination with West Virginia Department of Education; United Way of Central West Virginia; the Summer Food Service Program of the West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition; Unicare; the Anthem Foundation (Unicare); The Health Plan; and Truist.

Program support also has been received from Buffalo Wild Wings and the BGCA ALL-STARS, donating athletic equipment for members; MESH Design+Development, community partner for the STEM program; and AmeriCorps VISTA, providing three summer associates.

The two Boys & Girls Clubs meet in Salvation Army buildings and are affiliated with the Charleston Area Command. They typically see about 60 to 75 young people a day, ages 6 to 18, from kindergarteners to high school seniors.

"One part of the Virtual Club is all online, through videos created by staff or that we're sharing from other educational platforms or YouTube," Buckalew said. "We're addressing the programs a Boys & Girls Club normally would do day to day – science and technology, math, art, physical activities, healthy habits and healthy eating."

The second part is a weekly "Go Box" containing supplies for children's activities. Many youngsters are from vulnerable populations, and the Boys & Girls Clubs want to make sure all can participate even if they don't have the appropriate supplies at home. Families will come get the boxes once a week at hands-free drive-up or walk-up pickup sites.

"If there's an art class, we'll send the supplies," said Pam Petrea, unit director in St. Albans. "We're doing an initial supply bag with scissors, crayons, glue sticks, rulers and a notebook the children can use all summer."

"Any STEM projects – science, technology, engineering and math – we'll be sending home supplies for these as well. For example, for a plant unit, we'll provide seed, soil, cups, fertilizer, popsicle sticks and rubber bands – whatever they need."

Children also will learn about other cultures "Around the World" by getting passport books and stamping them every week for the different countries they'll learn about.

Buckalew said, "The last week we'll learn about Brazil, we'll send home things to make decorative masks or hats and invite the kids to join us on a live internet broadcast where everybody can share, dance and have fun."

The Go Box also will contain food to ensure a child has five meals a week plus snacks. If the rest of the family also needs food assistance, they can seek it from The Salvation Army social services office.

By the end of the summer, it's hoped novel coronavirus restrictions will be eased to the point, everyone can come back together for regular Boys & Girls Club programming. Until then, Buckalew said, The Salvation Army will do its best to serve "in this virtual world we're temporarily living in."

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