HARFORD COUNTY, Md. — All child care services in Maryland are open for essential workers. That includes the Boys and Girls Club. In Harford and Cecil Counties, five of their six clubs are open serving about 160 kids.
"It’s been a huge transition for us but I think we’ve done so with great success," said Derek Dewitt, the Executive Director for the Boys and Girls Club in Harford and Cecil Counties. "We had to empty out our clubs of all soft surfaces. We had to store much of what we had on hand like books and games, all those things. They had to go into storage so we could prepare our clubs for deep clean to be prepared to take kids within a week."
Now, the club is cleaned regularly and covered in tape.
"We’ve had to do a lot of creative things in terms of our interactive programs and making sure kids know where they can and can’t be. We literally marked the building to make sure they know how to properly distance from one another," said Dewitt.
They have six foot markers all over the club so members know where they can stand in line or where they can stand during an activity.
"We try to have as best a day as we can six feet apart and masks on most of the time," said Katherine Butterfield, a Program Aid at their Bel Air location.
She was a member and volunteer for years. She won the Youth of the Year award for 2019. Now, she's an employee at the club watching 5-9 year olds. The club has kids up to age 13. Right now, each staff member has to stay with the same group all day to limit exposure and they're constantly cleaning. They clean every room before and after each use. They rotate rooms for different activities throughout the day.
"No more than ten people in one room. Even our large game room, even if we six feet apart, we must only have ten people in that room," said Butterfield. "We are only allowing in staff and children. They have to get their temperature taken throughout the day, when they come in when they leave."
Typically this time of year, they're only open for after school care. Some clubs have before school care as well but most are just after school care. Now, they're open all day long.
"This is definitely abnormal for our school year but our summer is usually on an all day program that we have games, rotate through the rooms so it’s very similar to our summer program but we’ve added in our distance learning to accommodate them being out of school. So it’s a mix of school year and summer but it’s not our normal," said Butterfield. "We'll take brain breaks so we’ll go outside run and around or we’ll play a game in the game room then go back to learning and get everything that they need done and that helps the parents."
Butterfield said they do their best to keeps the kids active and engaged. They've even done virtual field trips.
"We talked a fire fighter and he told us, he showed us around the fire department. He talked to them about how they had to take different precautions as well. It helps the kids see they aren’t the only ones in this situation and to understand the bigger view and not just what we’re handling here," said Butterfield.
For those kids who are part of the Boys and Girls Club family but don't have essential parents, staff members are still checking in on them.
"They’re providing virtual programming, they are mentoring through digital means through phone calls and virtual meetings making sure they’re engaged and that they’re still well," said Dewitt.
Dewitt said, in Annapolis, the Boys and Girls Club there started making 'on the go' bags for their members who can't come into the center right now. He said they're filled "with all kinds of activities and resources for kids, snacks. They’re literally going out into the community and hand delivering these for kids that need to stay connected to the Boys and Girls Club and one another to make sure they feel a sense of belonging and togetherness."
In Havre de Grace and Edgewood, they started a 'Feed the Kids' program which helps 200-300 families a week.
"Our staff has worked to identify families in need of hot meals and once a week local restaurants are providing those meals. Once a week we are able to connect those families with those meals," said Dewitt.
They have a wish list on their website of things they need help with. So if you'd like to help this club or any club throughout the state just head over to their website.
On Thursday, May 14, the Boys and Girls Club for Harford and Cecil Counties hosted their Youth of the Year event. Hailey Forrester, from their Aberdeen location, was announced the winner representing these counties.
Forrester has been part of the Boys and Girls Club for eight years and said this program has helped her become a leader. She now gets $2,000 toward post high school education for winning.
If you want to watch their virtual ceremony, click here!