The struggles and silver linings of providing youth programs during a pandemic
When the Covid-19 pandemic forced fundamental shifts in how supportive programming is provided, many organizations found themselves faced with barriers they had never experienced in addition to intensified existing challenges.
Nadine Moore is a program coordinator for Healthy Active Community Kids, an after school program for kids aged 6 to 12 with a focus on Indigenous, low income and immigrant families.
“The schools we serve are in the red zone for the social census,” says Moore.
The program aims to build social, emotional and physical skills while preventing risky behaviour during critical after-school hours.
“It’s a holistic program focused on working with children to explore how they can better themselves by exploring anger, sharing, and self-control in a fun way,” she says.
“When the pandemic first started, we had a lot of engagement with parents and children for our services and a lot of communication going on,” said Moore. “Whether it was online programs, grants, supporting people with food, we had a lot of people looking for services.”
“Once we settled into the pandemic and everything started moving online we started seeing online fatigue among parents and community members. It became harder to get ahold of people.”
Moore wasn’t alone in struggling to stay connected with parents and families.
“We’ve always had barriers with communications with parents, this just made us realize that it wasn’t just us,” she says. “Everyone’s kind of having the same issue with trying to reach out to people and trying to connect. If anything, the pandemic has taught us this isn’t just out barrier, a lot of organizations are facing this challenge.”
The organization offers one two-hour program at six schools once a week. At the beginning of the pandemic, they reduced programming down to one hour because there was no access to washrooms.
“We continued that until last fall but now it’s all strictly online programming,” she said. “Pre-pandemic, we had about 120 kids showing up. Now it’s not a lot. Registration is pretty high but on average there’s only eight to 10 girls and about nine boys.”
Moore is currently working with parents to assess how safe they feel about possible in-person programming over the summer months with groups of five kids at a time.
While the pandemic has presented a wide variety of challenges, there have been some silver linings.
“When Out of School Time was providing us with grants support for families, that was a huge help to some of these parents, there were so many people going through difficult times,” said Moore. “One of the dads was in a car accident and was at home with the kids and couldn’t move and was out of work and all these things added up. It really helped to be able to give people like that a $500 gift card to a grocery store and that was huge for them.”
While online programming presented certain challenges around engagement, the smaller group sizes led to more personalized programming and one-on-one supports.
“Some of the kids in our girls group weren’t sure about their gender identity,” said Moore. “So we were able to connect with another organization that specializes in gender identity to come and talk to our girls.
While the pandemic continues to present ever-changing challenges, new ways of doing things also present unexpected successes.
“We probably wouldn’t have found that out at our normal program because when there are 30 kids it’s sometimes hard to find that one kid who’s struggling. “