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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused an emergency health crisis, heightened economic disparities, and disrupted all age groups’ ability to engage socially. Prior to the advent of COVID-19, youth (aged 15 to 24) were already three times more likely than adults to be unemployed. Now, because of the pandemic, young people are particularly at risk of being left behind in educational and economic opportunities. In addition, youth are at risk of missing opportunities for social and emotional development during a crucial stage of their lives. Developing programs and services that provide youth with meaningful positive engagement can come with many barriers including distrust as well as economic and educational barriers. And now an additional barrier has emerged in the form of COVID-19, which has reduced many youth engagement organizations’ capacity to provide in-person interaction. Organizations like The Boys and Girls Club Metropolitan Baltimore (BGCMB), the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, and the National Police Athletic League (National PAL) have been working with engaging at-risk youth for years prior to the pandemic. To avoid further exacerbating inequalities, these organizations have developed effective solutions to continue providing needed services and opportunities to young people.
BGCMB, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, and National PAL all report being impacted by capacity restrictions and limitations on in-person activities because of COVID-19 guidance. To address these limitations, BGCMB has focused on academic support and offering virtual programming through ClubHouse@YourHouse. This program allows members and youth to gain additional academic support and access to traditional BGCMB programs through an online platform. This virtual platform has also allowed youth to make friends with other members from other Maryland Boys & Girls Clubs. BGCMB has also introduced Club on the Go, which offers a “Pop Up” Club in various communities where staff open their Club van doors, provide a program session for 60 minutes, and distribute a snack or meal to new members.
Like BGCMB, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has had to shift from in-person activity to virtual program delivery. In March 2020, the foundation created virtual adaptations of its Badges for Baseball and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs to allow youth to interact with positive adult mentors, including law enforcement officers, and stay engaged in educational curricula while in the safety of their homes. These initiatives included the Ripken Playbook and At-Home STEM. The Ripken Playbook helps the foundation interact with youth through virtual “Plays of the Day,” with each lesson drawing from a theme of the Badges for Baseball program. The At-Home STEM program, developed in partnership with nationally recognized STEM product retailers, provides engaging and stimulating educational experiences for kids to continue to learn STEM concepts at home. Last, the foundation also created and launched a 12-week Virtual Fitness program with certified personal trainer and nutrition coach Chris Welsch to keep participants active, healthy, and positively engaged with mentors.
National PAL, in addition to limits on in person engagement, has seen people in the communities they serve dealing with lack of resources including food, water, and school supplies. In addition, National PAL chapters have provided meals and supplies to communities in need and opened facilities to support socially distanced activities and community assistance efforts.
These organizations all recognize that true engagement involves connecting with other organizations in the community; this concept has been even more important while navigating the uncharted territory of the pandemic. BGCMB continues to be a constant presence in the communities it serves and is often the only consistent resource. Its longstanding relationships with community churches and feeder schools helps it fill the needs of local youth, families, and communities. BGCMB also recognizes that partnerships do not include just other community organizations but also the families of the youth it serves and has hired staff members who deal specifically with cultivating and growing partnerships that support the club’s engagement efforts. Likewise, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation partners with more than 360 local community-based organizations and law enforcement agencies to assist in the implementation of the Badges for Baseball program. The foundation also supports community-based organizations by hosting one-day events and clinics to provide additional opportunities for law enforcement officers to have meaningful interactions with youth. The mantra "It Takes A Village” is of great importance to National PAL as it has never taken lightly the importance of securing and interacting with strategic partners. The organization believes that it is important to solicit the assistance and partnerships of like-minded and quality-driven entities for the purpose of aiding and assisting youth in the community. In addition, developing strong partnerships demonstrates to the youth that it is okay to work with others for the goal of greater good. According to Jeff Hood, National PAL’s chief executive officer, “No agency is above the care of our youth and we must collectively be willing to collectively come together to ensure their success.” While there is no definite end to the pandemic, the continued efforts of these organizations allow for the community to have a sense of optimism that efforts to support youth engagement can continue to thrive in any circumstance.
Social Science Analyst
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