Summer Fun, Learning, and Respite for Springfield’s Families

So much has been asked of parents and children during the pandemic. With summer approaching, Keshawn Dodds wanted to offer Springfield’s families respite from isolation, Zoom, remote schooling, and working-while-parenting.

The Boys & Girls Club Family Center, where Dodds is executive director, typically runs teen leadership programs, athletics, after school activities, a preschool and more. In-person programs shut down in March, but Dodds wanted the summer to be different.

A grant from the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley to the Club made summer fun possible again for many of Springfield’s youth.

“It was a blessing,” Dodds says. “It helped us get what we needed to open successfully – hand sanitizers, wipes, masks for all the kids, thermometers. And it helped us hire staff that would be specifically in charge of COVID planning and monitoring.”

Ready to roll! A young participant in the Boys & Girls Club Family Center’s summer program. (Photo courtesy of Desiree Provost)

Collaborating with Springfield’s Department of Health and Human Services and its public schools, Dodds and his staff—he calls them “first responders”—planned an in-person summer session that is both safe and enjoyable.

“Planning was the hardest thing ever,” he says. “We revamped everything from transportation to meals, focused on outdoor activities, and engaged the kids in their own health and safety.” To allow for social distancing at all times, the Club enrolled half the number of youth it usually does in the summer.

Young participants write their own safety plans, wear masks, socially distance, and watch videos about handwashing and other COVID prevention measures. Temperatures are checked three times a day, and parents receive and fill out daily checklists.

The Club doubled down on STEM activities, resulting in great creativity. “One group built a bridge from one desk to another using pipe cleaners,” says Dodds. “It held an 80-pound kid— we have the photographic evidence!” Outdoor activities include hikes and walks, and socially distanced games like kick-bowling.

“Kids are so happy to be out of the house. But parents need these programs as much as kids. Parents have to work, and our society does very little to support them,” says Dodds.

After the first day, one mom posted on the Club’s Facebook page about her little boy, “I was nervous about letting him go back but when they said they got everything covered they meant it. Thank you so much, Boys & Girls Club Family Center. You guys sure did cover everything and make sure they still had fun while learning and being together.”