Webster-Dudley Boys & Girls Club adds services during pandemicDec 04, 2020 02:09PM ● By Janet Stoica
Ann Grampetro and Tyler Bailey assist a student.
Who would have thought that our local Boys & Girls Club would step up so swiftly and powerfully to do what it could for our 5- to 13-year-old community?
Talk about flying under the radar. The staff has been quietly and decisively providing one of the best children’s assistance programs in this area.
When COVID-19 reared its ugly head back in February and began spreading itself faster than a wildfire, the Boys & Girls Club sprang into action and re-invented itself. “We knew we couldn’t close our doors,” said Executive Director Liz Hamilton, “so we applied to the Commonwealth as an Emergency Child Care site. We wanted to be here for all the first responders and medical personnel who were working so diligently to care for the lives in our community. We knew their children needed a place like this to come to for their educational needs while their parents and guardians worked.”
After their Emergency Child Care application was approved, they operated under those guidelines.
In September, the Club became a learning hub from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily for age groups 5 to 13. Breakfast and lunch are included with daily activities.
“We wanted to help the teachers too,” Ms. Hamilton said. “They are very much in need of our services.”
She stressed that “our team here is committed to our youth. By keeping ourselves open, we meet the needs of the community. We’re here for the long haul as a learning hub. When a child has no one home to be with them during their off-site school day, we are here for them. We want to ensure no child is home alone. The current events are stressful for teachers, parents, and children.”
Guidelines dictate that there be 42 square feet of space for each child and that face masks and sanitary procedures are strictly followed. Ten to 12 students make up a learning pod as the children are educated via online instruction. Currently, there are five pods. The staff can advocate for each child whether it’s homework or schoolwork while also advising parents if their children need assistance. All of these services are provided for a very nominal cost of a $50 membership fee per child. Additionally, if a family cannot afford the $50 fee, the Club will scholarship them into the program.
“All of our slots are filled right now,” according to Director Hamilton, “and we will be re-evaluating the program in November and will see if we need more staff and more pods. During this transition, we upgraded our technology to provide many more computer connections and we had no issues at all. We are always in need, however, of personal protective equipment and maintenance and sanitary supplies. We probably could expand to five more pods, but our funding isn’t there. We didn’t want to start off too big and 50 has been a perfect number for us so far.”
Ms. Hamilton is also the Executive Director of the Worcester Boys and Girls Club where she and the staff have successfully organized satellite pod campuses of 150 students daily in the Main South area, 40 students at Great Brook Valley, and soon hope to be serving 30 students at Plumley Village.
“There’s such a great need in Webster,” she said, noting that there is a waiting list. “We’re working on obtaining more funding. “Whether someone wants to donate $10 or $10,000, all donations are gratefully accepted. Many local companies have assisted us financially, including Long Subaru, Mapfre Insurance, United Way of South Central Massachusetts, and Webster Five Cents Savings Bank, to name a few. We are so very thankful for assistance from everyone in our local area. They have been incredibly supportive. This program is a partnership with the local school systems. We’re both in the business of supporting and educating our youth.”
The Club is usually open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and the expanded hours have been a blessing for many parents and caregivers. When the government closed childcare centers and the Club opened as an Emergency Child Care Center, many parents and children were able to use the facility for the students’ benefit.
Ms. Hamilton explained that the Club’s team and board members felt that the new program would be of great benefit as they already were Early Education Care-licensed and abided by many of their requirements, including health and safety. “It’s been a real team effort. We know there are risks but we are taking every health and safety protocol by the book,” said Ms. Hamilton, “Cleaning and sanitizing procedures have been enhanced and every family goes through a daily screening with signatures required, and student temperatures are taken.”
If you are thinking of how you can help your local community, especially with the holiday season fast approaching, a donation of any size to the Boys & Girls Club might be one of the best gifts you could ever give. One child’s membership is $50/year. Keeping it local, right?
Webster-Dudley Boys and Girls Club, 55 Oxford Avenue, Dudley. Phone: (508) 943-0037.
Janet can be reached at [email protected]