Child measuring a wool cord

A safe haven for frontline families

Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County opens its doors to help emergency and healthcare workers

At the height of the pandemic, shifts for frontline workers—including doctors, nurses, firemen, emergency medical technicians, ambulance drivers and police officers—reached 18 hours or longer—and many found it difficult to find a trusted and consistent source for childcare.

Just south of Tampa, Florida, Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County made a choice to provide free childcare services for the school-aged children of essential workers. The program got rolling in early April, spurred on by a call for help from a local hospital, where school closures had left employees in a bind. “There was discussion early on about how to help those helping us on the front lines,” says Clubs president and CEO Dawn Stanhope. “We said ‘Absolutely, we really want to do this.’ ” Boys & Girls Clubs expanded the scope to include families of police, EMTs and other first responders.

Kids playing table tennis

Staff members underwent training in everything from temperature readings to rigorous cleaning and distancing protocols to safely welcome as many as 45 six- to 12-year-olds each day. At two separate Club locations, children arrived to complete schoolwork, do artwork, play games and make new friends—all in accordance with distancing guidelines and other best practices. The activities are fun, communal and constructive. The art program’s time capsules, for example, offer “a great opportunity for kids to express how they’re feeling right now,” Stanhope says.

Even as it welcomed the children of essential workers, the organization had to rapidly reconfigure its usual programs, which serve some 2,400 children, age 5 to 17, each year. It now offers cooking classes, storytelling and games through a newly launched online program called Club Connect.

Plus, Club staff are calling families to check in, devising simple craft projects kids can do with materials they already have at home, and distributing more than 13,000 meals-to-go every week.

To support these efforts Boys & Girls Clubs is investing in technology to enable staff to work remotely and arranging to have laptops donated to families, supplementing those made available by local schools. “Kids that had never owned a laptop now have access to technology,” Stanhope says, “and that can be a game changer.”

These extraordinary adjustments, along with additional staff hours to cover the child care program and the need for more cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, have led to unplanned costs of $100,000 and counting. The community has responded with money and time, Stanhope says. For example, in addition to a $20,000 grant from Bank of America helps defray costs, local bank employees volunteered with Boys & Girls Clubs recently to stage an online talent show with member children. “That really gets to the heart of what we're trying to do—connect with our kids and their families.”

As nonprofits adjust to addressing increased needs in their local communities, Bank of America is committed to supporting them. Learn more about the bank’s $100 million philanthropic commitment to more than 1,300 non-profits on the front lines, as well as the bank’s $250 million commitment to assisting local businesses.

Originally published 07/06/20