Daniel Simmons is the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina, a youth development organization that serves nearly 500 children per day across Chatham, Lee and Harnett counties. With …
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Daniel Simmons is the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina, a youth development organization that serves nearly 500 children per day across Chatham, Lee and Harnett counties. With Gov. Cooper’s phased plan to reopen the state, people are heading back to work — which means childcare services are needed. In Chatham County, the Wren Family Center Boys & Girls Club in Siler City opened for its summer program on June 8.
Simmons spoke to the News + Record about the reopening plans.
Can you outline the operational plan for reopening the B&GC in Chatham County?
We have instituted a robust COVID-19 protocol that places a limit of 50 percent enrollment in all of our clubs. Whereas the Wren Family Boys & Girls Club would normally see 100 kids per day during the summer, we are limiting enrollment to 50 kids as a public health measure. This allows our staff and kids to observe proper social distancing. Also, we are checking the body temperature of our kids with infrared thermometers twice per day — when they enter the building in the morning and then again at midday. In addition, our staff must answer a health questionnaire and have their temperature taken when they arrive each day, too. There are many more procedures above and beyond these. Our written COVID-19 operation protocol is eight pages long.
For Chatham County, why is it important why is it important to your club members to have the clubs open up for the summer?
There are three main reasons in my mind. Many of our club parents are still working and we want to make sure their kids have a safe place to go while they are at work. We see a lot of opportunities for kids to get in trouble when they are left home alone. This is where we see increases in substance use, teen pregnancy and overall juvenile crime. Every child we can serve every day is one less child susceptible to trouble.
Also, we are a USDA food provider site, which means we serve two meals per day to our children. This can be a big help to families who are struggling financially right now due to layoffs or working reduced hours.
Finally, we are concerned about the social and academic lives of our children. They’ve been out of school for three months, which means they’ve missed out on a lot of social interaction and, certainly, it’s probable that they’ve experienced some regression in their learning. Our school systems did a top-notch job of migrating to online learning in a very quick fashion amid unexpected circumstances, but we all know there were drawbacks that simply couldn’t be helped. Our kids and our educators were doing the very best they could with the situation at hand. I know it for a fact, because I am married to an educator of 20 years. I saw it first-hand.
While our clubs don’t have the resources to provide tutoring to every single child each day, our staff do provide dedicated homework time and guidance. Frankly, our job right now is simply to help our kids stay mentally and academically stimulated. This will help them prepare for the upcoming school year.
Has there been any difficulty acquiring supplies such as PPE and the hospital grade cleaning supplies?
We’ve been fortunate in that area. Our ongoing relationship with a national institution-focused vendor has, so far, allowed us to stay well stocked on everything from masks to hospital-grade disinfectant. This is one of the advantages of operating multiple clubs. It allows us to purchase in higher quantities, which opens up our options for purchasing, often at discounted prices. We even have masks with the Boys & Girls Clubs logo on them, so that’s fun.
What difficulties or drawbacks are there in the new operational procedures?
A couple of things that come to mind include the time it takes to get everyone checked in each day. When you’re taking temperatures, completing health questionnaires, and sanitizing contraband (like cell phones), it takes patience on everyone’s part. Also, social distancing is truly challenging our club-level staff in how to operate their programs, not the least of which is recreation time. How do you play basketball during a pandemic? These are questions we’re having to ask ourselves. Keeping things fun and interactive for the kids is a real challenge. Can you imagine what it’s like to get a room of elementary school kids with masks on to social distance? We’re doing it well, but it’s really taken a lot of thought and creativity. Finally, the biggest drawback is not being able to open enrollment to our full capacity, but it’s important right now to follow the guidelines and keep our community’s public health in focus.
It’s a tenuous time for many businesses and organizations as “re-opening” occurs. What do you want to share about your procedures to ease any concerns?
My staff and I have worked since day one of the pandemic to continue serving kids. We were serving 300 meals a day at our Harnett County Club; our club-level staff at each club were meeting each day with our club members on Google Hangout to help them with homework and, during all of that, we were on every teleconference and webinar we could possibly be on with DHHS, our insurance companies, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, HR consulting firms, local health departments, our colleagues at other Boys & Girls Clubs organizations across the state and more. We took every opportunity to learn from everyone and we have amalgamated our policies and procedures from the best practices from all of those sources. We are not perfect. There’s still a risk involved by operating, but we believe we have instituted rigorous procedures that allow us to operate safely so we can serve our number one priority: kids.
What are your hopes/expectations for this upcoming summer and the rest of the year?
My expectation is that we will help our kids cope with the traumatic experiences they’ve experienced already in 2020. This has been a year for the record books. From the pandemic to the social unrest we are experiencing, our kids need the listening ear and guidance of a caring adult. They need someone who is going to help them regain focus and stay on track. They need someone who can assure them that they will get through this and they will be stronger and better for it. That “someone” is a caring staff member or volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club.
BGCCC launch new fundraising campaign
The Boys & Girls Clubs Central Carolina announced a new fundraising campaign last week aimed at supporting COVID-19 relief efforts for youth and families in Chatham, Lee and Harnett counties. Last month, the BGCCC were approached by an anonymous supporter of the club who donated a $35,000 gift be to be used as “challenge” to get others to give. In addition, the Truist Foundation donated $20,000 to jumpstart the campaign. The BGCCC has a goal of raising $200,000 by Aug. 3. To donate and to learn more about Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina, visit https://centralcarolinaclubs.org/donate/