July 1, 2021 Community Stories
Where COVID-19 Relief Included Bedtime Stories
In almost 25 years working at YMCAs throughout New England, Julie Bianco and her colleagues had never read weekly bedtime stories to children via Zoom. But, Bianco, the CEO of the Hampshire Regional YMCA in Northampton, found herself doing just that during the pandemic. It was one of the many ways Bianco, her board, and staff adapted to community needs and connected with children and families during the COVID-19 crisis.
Government loans and two unrestricted grants from the Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund made a world of difference, according to Bianco. “If we hadn’t had those, we would have been in big trouble,” she said, noting that the Y incurred an astonishing $2 million revenue loss during the pandemic.
Of the Foundation’s grants, Bianco said, “It felt like we were given something with a lot of trust that we would use it where it most needed. We had the freedom and ability to put the grant money where we needed to pivot, especially during the uncertainty of COVID.”
Pivot they did.
The Y began offering group exercise classes online and in their parking lot, and its staff teamed with the Senior Center to deliver meals to older people. The Y’s oldest member (he was 96!) was a recipient. Family programs were offered online. Wednesdays became Trivia Nights on Zoom for older people. “Bright spots in a lot of uncertainty and darkness” Bianco called these events.
With schools closed, spaces at the Y morphed into classrooms to host remote learning.
Bianco reflected, “It was an amazing thing! At any one time, we had 33 kids from different schools in different grades, all sitting at their desks with their little devices listening to different teachers. And our staff helped to navigate that. So instead of a parent asking, ‘What’s your homework?’, our staff person became the liaison between teachers and children.”
“It helped parents go to work, work from home, or just have a break. And the kids got to go swimming, have gym and recess and play in our playground. They didn’t miss out as they would have if they were sitting at home.”
“We were the only place in Western Mass.—definitely the only one in Northampton—to open summer camp, and it was four months into the pandemic. We knew these kiddos were already facing mental health issues and stress, fear, and anxiety. And the parents were dealing with the same feelings while trying to remote school their children.”
“We served 186 kids, and we did not have one COVID case. We’ve not had one case attributed to our Y during the entire pandemic, which is something I’m incredibly proud of,” Bianco remarked.
Photos provided by Hampshire Regional YMCA