Boys & Girls Clubs become remote learning centers

Lesser seeks $2.2 million to help fund their efforts

TUCKED INSIDE the $46 billion state budget sitting on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk is a provision funneling $2.2 million to the Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs to help the facilities continue to serve as a home away from home for students doing remote learning.

Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow filed the budget amendment to restore state funding provided in previous years. He said the money is needed to help the clubs survive the coronavirus pandemic and continue to serve the estimated 3,000 students participating in remote learning programs.

“I view them as first responders for families. It’s really an essential service,” said Lesser.

Single mother Lee Luna of Ludlow, who works as a security investigator at a local medical center, couldn’t agree more. Her children Jake, 11, and Mariah, 9, spend three days a week at the local Randall Boys and Girls Club learning remotely.

“I literally would have to quit work or take a huge leave of absence, and then I couldn’t pay the bills or the mortgage,” Luna said in a phone interview. “The staff at the club, they’re an absolute lifesaver.”

Luna pays $42 per child per day for a combination of remote learning and after-school programming. Counselors keep her children on task and communicate with her and the school when issues arise. They also support kids with their homework. Luna is hoping the amount she pays–which is still cheaper than a babysitter–could go down if the Boys and Girls Clubs get more funding. “I mean, it’s just super expensive, but I’ve got to work,” she said.  

The two-floor building housing the club has rooms formerly used for games or sports that have been converted into classrooms. The staff knows when each child has to log on for a specific class, and keeps them together but separated from other cohorts of children during breaks and lunch. Every day, parents fill out a questionnaire asking if their kids have any coronavirus symptoms, before they’re allowed to be picked up by a bus.

Mechilia Salazar, the president of the 70-year-old Ludlow club, said the remote learning program was launched when she heard from parents who had to go to work but were worried about leaving their children home alone to do remote learning.

Between remote classes, students take socially distanced “brain breaks” to help them stay focused and motivated.

Salazar said the remote learning program has been a hit with parents, but it’s been a financial strain on the club, which had to shut down at the start of the pandemic and had to lay off half the staff once operations resumed but on a much smaller basis.

“We feel like we’re getting hit at every angle, while still struggling to stay committed and responsive to community needs,” she said.

The club has lost over $640,000 in revenue due to being closed for the beginning of the pandemic, and limitations to adult fitness programming, preschool enrollment, and inability to hold in-person fundraisers. More than half of the 70-staff had to be laid off. Even if some staff has been laid off, they’re still responsible for a 50% charge of the unemployment benefits being paid out to individuals– the first of several payments of $90,000 must be sent out soon.   

In Springfield, the Boys & Girls Club Family Center has 54 students enrolled in remote learning starting at 7 a.m. Director Keshawn Dodds said he hired extra staff, purchased noise cancellation headphones for each child, paid $40,000 for personal protection equipment, rearranged classrooms, and upgraded ventilation. He said he’s been most impressed with the response of staff.

“They’re not just there to monitor them. They actually help the kids between their breaks, tutoring kids on their work. They’ve really pulled their weight more than I could ever expect, and I am still impressed with how they developed into educators,” said Dodds.

The Springfield club gets voucher reimbursements through the state for many low-income parents. For parents who don’t qualify for those vouchers, the club has scholarships. But with fundraising events limited this year, money has been tight.

Dodds said the state money is crucial both for the clubs and the parents and children who use them. “I told him [Lesser] flat out, ‘If you don’t push for money, you’re going to create poverty,”‘ said Dodds.

Clubs have been working closely not just with parents but with school districts. In Lynn, for instance, superintendent Patrick Tutwiler meets with the clubs and YMCAs at least once a week. In Marshfield, the district had no before-school care at five elementary schools just nine days before the year started. “The club organized, hired, and got all safety standards approved and opened on the first day of school serving over 35 families in need,” said Jennifer Aldworth, director of the Alliance.

The state used to supply $3 million a year to Boys and Girls Clubs, but the funding dropped to $2.2 million several years ago. Aldworth said she is anxious about getting the $2.2 million this year.

“Knowing how tight the budget is and the budget deficit the state is projecting–to get level funding would be a huge step in the right direction,” she said.

She anticipates there will be a $20 million decrease in club income from various sources, including donors, memberships, and state monies, by the beginning of 2021. The $2.2 million is not a huge amount, but it’s a start, she said.

Jake Luna and another student co-wrote a story during one of their class breaks and read it to their remote learning group.

Aldworth said each club has its own budget and shortfalls, which is why some may charge more than others for remote learning services.

In Boston, over 800 students attended in-person remote learning at Boston clubs in October, with a median daily attendance of almost 500. Eight of 11 clubs are currently open for remote learners. Because of social distancing, most clubs are at capacity for remote learners.

“In terms of revenue, we’re down over $2 million,” said Josh Kraft, who heads the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, of the organization’s projected annual fundraising. Another unanticipated cost for the organization was $60,000 for an internet firewall for security.

Children of all ages are using their services. Students Roberto and Paris Figuereo, who live in Boston, are METCO students attending high school in Newton and working remotely at the Yawkey Club in Roxbury.

Their mother Allison Figuereo, said she can’t work from home and the family WiFi connection isn’t that great.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Freelance reporter, Formerly worked for CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

She pays $5 per child a year for membership at the club, which includes the remote learning program. While the kids are old enough to stay home alone, Figuereo said she chose the Boys and Girls Club program because she wanted structure.

“Not all students are able to work independently alone at home, and my children are students who need a support system in place,” she said.