I’m probably preaching to the choir, but there are some unsung heroes in our midst that deserve some recognition. In March when Connecticut went virtual, some afterschool professionals among us got to work preparing to open child care service for essential workers! Afterschool professionals are on the frontlines of this pandemic, allowing others (like doctors, nurses, parademics, and firefighters) to attend work while children are safely cared for. 

Allow me to continue to preach about the selfless and courageous heroes in our midst. The afterschool profession has stepped up in a big way to provide essential child care during the pandemic. And like any helping profession, has gone above and beyond to support children and families during this unprecedented time. Families need food? Afterschool programs are there to provide. Kids need connection? Programs offer virtual and in-personal programming to fill the void that schools left. 

To continue the theme of highlighting unsung heroes, I met with Tracey Madden Hennessey, the Executive Director, and Joanna Figueroa, Youth Development Programs Coordinator of the New Britain YWCA. Both detail what changes have been made since March. The New Britain YWCA is client facing and focused. Tracey, Joanna and their teams ensured safety and basic needs were met in the in-person and virtual space.  

With just two weeks of soft closure to establish new procedures and guidelines, the New Britain YWCA revamped their child care and youth development programs. After those two weeks in March, staff and supervisors emerged with a new set of duties: frequent cleaning of high touch surfaces, monitoring health of students meticulously, doaning masks, and ensuring proper handwashing. Additionally, the New Britain YWCA decreased the number of students per group and per classroom, and began to engage in contact tracing with local health officials.  

Tip #1: Talk with Local Health Officials  

Tracey cannot stress enough the importance of talking and forming a relationship with local health officials. She uses these folks as a resource frequently as they help her with contact tracing, plus they have a wealth of knowledge.  

Tip #2: Staff first  

Acknowledge staff feelings. Of course New Britain YWCA staff were scared at first when they heard the news about Covid-19 and opening essential child care. Acknowledging feelings, fears, and the new policy and procedures in place to keep everyone safe helped the New Britain YWCA in this regard. Staff comfort translates into child and family comfort.  

Tip #3: Use Technology to Your Advantage  

New Britain YWCA has embraced instead of steering away from technology, especially with the teens. Program staff used Google Classroom to connect with students and older kids even made photo voice projects shared on social media. Joanna and her team are eager to take what they have learned during this time and incorporate it, even once this crisis is over.

Afterschool Heroes!  

When families had a need, the New Britain YWCA was there to support them. This makes afterschool professionals true heroes and invaluable partners during this time. With only two weeks to make such big programmatic changes, the New Britain YWCA and countless other programs did all they could to help children and families. The courage it takes to show up to the frontlines day in and day out should not go unnoticed!  

As summer camps continue on and we begin to think about what school will look like in the fall, these programs have invaluable information for us. They can tell us how children, staff, and families have persevered during this time using their partnerships and relationships to make the best of the situation.

Thank you to all these Out-of-School time heroes, pioneering the way in their in-person work with children during the Covid-19 crisis!  

If you have unsung heroes that you’d like us to highlight, please email mschone@ctafterschoolnetwork.org