Officials with the Boys and Girls Club of America chat with a student in the computer lab at the Youth Empowerment Programme in 2018. With the coronavirus forcing the organisation to shut its doors, it has moved to programming online. (File Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

Though the Youth Empowerment Programme has shut its doors as part of territory-wide efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, it remains committed to the approximately 130 children enrolled in the after-school programme.

Like the territory’s schools, which have also been forced to close amidst the pandemic, YEP is turning to the internet to keep the children involved, supplying them with instructive activities as well as games and challenges to provide relief during stressful times, said YEP Director Stacy Mather.

“My staff has been working feverishly to create community engagement,” Mr. Mather said.

With all residents ordered to stay home as part of a 24-hour curfew, staffers have devised and circulated a number of social-media challenges, including one that invites families to post lip-syncing videos to Facebook and other platforms, and another that encourages kids to take silly pictures of their hygienic routines.

On YEP’s Facebook page, staffers have compiled pictures of kids who have photographed themselves brushing their teeth and doodled thick brows above their eyes or added emojis.

For older members, the staff has promoted an online class that teaches a variety of digital disciplines, from coding to social media awareness to entrepreneurship.

Recognising that some children may not have access to these virtual options, YEP has loaned Chromebooks to some of the neediest families involved with the non-profit, Mr. Mathersaid.

“We’ve taken our programme and we’ve made it virtual,” he added.

Communication

Mr. Mather and other staff members are able to circulate these activities and keep close tabs on members thanks to a robust network of communication that directly reaches at least 200 families, he said.

Beyond a WhatsApp group of parents and another of children, staffers also operate a homework hotline sponsored by CCT, which they typically keep open from 9 a.m. until noon, Mr. Mather said.

While this hotline is intended to answer questions about homework, children are free to call with other concerns, and staffers do their best to make themselves available to any who need to talk at a different time or who may not have the means to call the hotline, Mr. Mather said.

“If they call because they want to say hello to one of my staff members because they’re lonely, we’re not gonna ignore your call,” the director explained.

Anxiety

During recent conversations, Mr. Mather has detected some anxiety amongst the children, whose daily lives have been severely disrupted by the measures taken to curb the virus’s spread.

“Some of them are definitely frightened by the situation,” he said.

For staffers, too, the pandemic has been a strain, as they have to balance caring for themselves and their families with caring for the children at YEP, Mr. Mather said.

“I’m thankful we’re able to remind ourselves and converse with ourselves as a staff, as a team, to be sure that our own needs and the needs of our families are taken care of,” he said, adding, “We cannot help the community if we ourselves are not in a position [to do so].”