Essential care for essential minds: Child care and education amid COVID-19

Boys & Girls Club of Livingston County works its way through uncharted territory in 2020

The date March 14, 2020 will forever hold a significance for North Americans. It will be remembered as the day that the new decade took a staggering turn.

For the Boys & Girls Club of Livingston County in Illinois, its after-school program for children and teens quickly rose to the COVID-19 pandemic challenge and remained open while everything else seemingly did the opposite. Particularly for essential workers, the club realized that the children of EMS workers, utility providers and hospital employees would need immediate support very early on.

“We recognized how critical it was that we be open for the children of essential service employees in the county,” says CEO Jodi Martin. “As an after-school program, we did not expect to be open all day, but we were focused on how we could make this situation the safest place for the kids in our communities.”

The club in Livingston County encompasses four locations in Illinois, including Pontiac, Chatsworth, Fairbury and Chenoa. While over 20 Boys & Girls Clubs exist in the state, Livingston County was the only that remained open in the early days of COVID-19, serving approximately 75 kids a day at its facility—down almost 65% from its regular capacity.

“At every turn, we were pivoting,” says Martin. “We had to apply for an emergency childcare license and train our staff very quickly.”

After getting its affairs in order, then came the next obstacle to the after-school-turned-full-time childcare program: masks. The initial high expense of masks, coupled with the need for providing meals and snacks for children, put a unique financial stress on the club.

“Every time we thought we were covered, something else came up.”

As part of our commitment to improving quality of life in the communities where we operate, an Enbridge grant of $6,500 to the Boys & Girls Club of Livingston County has helped continue efforts to stay open during COVID-19.

The organization currently runs operation costs at a little over $11,000 each month during the pandemic. While Martin says some months have made her more nervous than others, donors and funders have allowed the club to remain open.

“Somehow, every time I think we are going to finally see a negative in our weekly accounts, something positive happens,” says Martin. “The support from Enbridge will allow us to secure sanitizing materials like wipes and spray.”

In addition to childcare, the club created—with the help of Boys & Girls Clubs of America—virtual programming so that children could feel connected to the club, even when they were sitting at home. Over 400 children have participated so far.

“Here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, and the children are just happy that they could still play games, have fun and feel safe,” says Martin.

“For us to be able to open our doors, see them, and have our professionals love and care for them—that’s it. Mission accomplished.”

(TOP PHOTO: Kids in the after-school-care program at the Boys & Girls Club of Livingston County get a visit from the Easter Bunny this past spring.)