With the potential loss of summer programming at the Door County Boys & Girls Club, there is concern that kids and families that rely on the club’s services will struggle to adjust to their new normal.
Jennifer Gentry, co-owner of One Barrel Brewing Company and a director on the board of the Boys & Girls Club, said the most important thing to do at this time is ensure that kids continue feeling supported and heard.
“Kids are scared and unsure about the world and what’s happening right now,” Gentry said. “If we can keep them engaged and feeling a sense of normalcy right now, that’s the goal.”
To mitigate those feelings of uncertainty and fear, the club is working to set up virtual programming and is taking extra steps to stay engaged with the community.
There isn’t a plan in place yet for virtual programming, but the team is working diligently to put something together, Gentry said. Staff and volunteers have already been reaching out in various ways: checking in by phone with kids who might be especially vulnerable, giving birthday shout-outs and posting activities to social media, such as videos of club teachers reading books.
Gentry is getting ideas from other Boys & Girls Clubs in northeast Wisconsin to partner with them and piggyback off of some of the programs they already have in place, she said.
The club has also organized a Friendly Faces Parade every other week, during which families can dress up, make signs and drive by the club in Sturgeon Bay to connect with their teachers and friends by honking and waving. The first one – on April 10 – included donated pizzas from Little Caesars for pickup, and that face-to-face connection (though it’s through car windows) has been valuable to participating families.
“Being able to safely connect with and say hello to club staff, even if only for a brief moment, really made our family’s day!” parent Rebecca Nicholson said of the event. “We love the Boys & Girls Club of Door County – for everything they are, everything they stand for and for everything they do.”
The club is also a participant in the Door County Meals Cooperative, which provides free meals Monday through Friday to anyone in the community who needs them. The club provides the kitchen space to prepare those meals.
Gentry also worked as a member of the Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club to set up a weekend meal there during the Easter holiday. It went very well, she said, but it also highlighted how much of a need there is for weekend meal options. The event ran 2-4 pm; a line had formed by 1:40 pm; and by 3:30 pm, the volunteers had run out of their 250 prepared servings.
She’s now working with Erich Pfeifer of Marine Travelift, also a member of the Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club, to extend the event and set up a weekend meal program on more of a monthly basis. Their goal is to have another one for Mother’s Day.
“Obviously, I’d like to do it every week, but there are so many people in need right now and so many organizations and great programs to donate to that we’re just not seeing the funding to do it every week,” Gentry said.
Also available to the wider community, but located at the Boys & Girls Club, is a Basic Needs Kit program through which people can pick up essentials such as toilet paper, feminine products and toothpaste.
Community support is going to drive the foundation for virtual programming as well, and right now they’re struggling for donations, whether monetary or not, Gentry said.