After they were forced to close 10 weeks earlier, the directors of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City wondered what type of response they would get with a limited reopening this week to their young members.
Closed since mid-March due to the pandemic, the club’s six units opened Monday to children ages 5 to 12, offering a nine-week summer education program.
“We’ve had a great response; it’s been overwhelming,” said Dred Scott, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City. “It’s like a first day of school. Kids have some new clothes, new haircut.”
“We’ve got a waiting list” to attend, he said.
That’s in part because public health restrictions limited how many children the club units can serve for now. Instead of hosting about 1,200 children daily at the six metro-area units, they host about 400.
“We went through each of our facilities and determined what we could hold, and decided about one-third of the normal,” Scott said while visiting the Independence unit on Leslie Street. “It was really about having the guidelines that had been set up.”
To help stay in that range, Boys & Girls Club decided to limit reopening to children age 5-12, rather than up to 18. That way, Scott said, they’re still able to provide an avenue of child care for essential workers and other parents who have gone back to work.
Children are in groups of no more than 10, with spaced-out stickers and desks set up to encourage social distancing. All staff members wear masks and take temperature checks on arrival, a certified nurse’s assistant is on staff, and all children receive temperature checks when arriving and again later in the day.
The academic program, the Atomic Blast Summer Enrichment Program, is a STEM-focused program sponsored by Honeywell and includes teachers from Kansas City Public Schools.
If not all the children are showing outward joy at returning to the club, they’re at least not bored at home.
“All I did was watch Netflix and do the dishes,” piped up one pre-teen girl.
Scott said it was also tough on staff to be closed during the pandemic, as they couldn’t work with the children like they enjoy.
“We pride ourselves on being open when schools are closed,” Scott said. “That’s our claim to fame.”
Instead, with units shuttered, Boys & Girls Club pivoted to outreach efforts. They ran a meal service that handed out 700 hot meals a day – about 30,000 since mid-March, Scott said – and will continue to run it in the summer. Staff did weekly wellness checks with club members, making 1,000 calls a week.
When the children returned this week, Scott had senior staff visit all the units in the metro area to see their reaction.
“They were overjoyed,” Scott said. “They were bubbling over with excitement and energy, being able to socialize, have some sense of normalcy again.”