PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Presque Isle Boys and Girls Club has opted not to hold in-person programs during the beginning of the school year, in an effort to keep children and families safe amidst the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Club CEO Fenton Jones stated that the limited amount of space at the organization’s 56 Micmac Drive location is not currently able to provide adequate social distancing for in-person after-school programs. Construction is underway to build an extension onto the building’s Wellness Center.
“The space will be around the size of a middle school gym and primarily be used as emergency shelter for our community during the pandemic,” Jones said. “But once our youth members are back we’ll be able to use the space to spread everyone out.”
Until that day comes, Boys and Girls Club staff members and volunteers have been reaching out to youth and parents via new initiatives such as Club on Wheels, which has provided educational activities, drive-up movie showings and meal distributions. Since March, the club has distributed over 28,000 meals to families in Presque Isle and neighboring towns.
The Boys and Girls Club has seen their number of youth members grow from 40 to 150 since March, due to the increased need for virtual programming and greater community outreach for families living further from club headquarters.
Staff members have kept in touch with parents and children via phone calls to ensure that children are completing activity packets and have access to services such as tutoring and counseling. Youth members have been especially appreciative of the chance to see club staff during activity drop-offs, even if at a distance.
“That’s something our kids always look forward to. At Birch Street there are kids who will wait outside for the club van to arrive,” Jones said, referring to a neighborhood street at the Presque Isle Housing Authority.
As the school year begins, the Boys and Girls Club staff and board of directors will continue to evaluate the local pandemic situation, with the hopes of eventually welcoming back youth for after-school programs.
In the meantime, the club plans to provide after-school and homeschool activity kits for arts and crafts, STEM subjects and Micmac cultural literacy as well as healthy snack kits. Staff members will tutor students virtually as part of the club’s Power Hour program and will launch My.Future, a national Boys and Girls Club program where students can upload and share digital projects and connect with peers.
“It’s been challenging to not know what each day will hold, but we’re being resilient and we want to support our youth in any way we can,” Jones said.