Youth clubhouse is getting back to a sense of normalcy

Members of the Payette clubhouse pose for a picture on June 2. Standing, from left; Misty Newton, Deidryk Israel, Bentli Poston, teacher McKay Bennett, Iliona Cammack, Serenity Cammack, Julia Lindsay. Sitting: Dominic Hughes

WESTERN TREASURE VALLEY — Now that they’ve been apart, the hard part is getting back together, as Dana Castellani, Chief Executive Director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Treasure Valley, has observed. Among the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic’s biggest effects on her members’ mental health is its playing of ’keep away’ with each other, as she described in a phone conversation on May 27. With restrictions beginning to ease on both sides of the Snake River, Castellani explained how the Clubs are reintegrating.

According to Castellani, the clubs reopened on June 1 on both sides of the river.

“My Payette club probably could have opened a long time ago, there were some Idaho clubs that never closed,” said Castellani. “We just erred on the safer side and and I’m headquartered in Oregon, so what I did for one I wanted to [do] on both sides. It’s going to look very different.” 

Castellani said reopening in Ontario involved becoming an emergency child care provider, how long they will need to maintain that being unknown to her as of press time.

“Under phase one we were unable to do our traditional field trips and summer programs that we usually do,” said Castellani.

Part of making sure the kids are okay is making sure her staff is okay, said Castellani.

“I’m hiring more staff, so I’m going to keep those one-to-ten ratios … I’ve just gotta offer what I can. I think the other part too is just to get my staff and kids more comfortable with it, and hopefully we can add more as the weeks go.”

With that established, Castellani said the Clubs will be maintaining social distancing by conducting classes and workshops in groups of 10, with clubs operating in morning and afternoon sessions each with their own part-time staff running it, and by limiting each session to 30 kids in Ontario during opening week, Payette just 20 kids and going from there.

“Obviously, contact tracing is a big deal.”

As a result, Castellani expressed understanding for those members or their families who still don’t feel quite ready to reintegrate at the club, especially those referred by the Oregon Department of Human Services.

“Lots of foster kids, and a lot of those families, are not ready yet to send kids back to clubs. So it’s kind of opposite from what I expected.”

On that note, Castellani cited a Department of Human Services report she got earlier in the day, saying calls for family intervention in Malheur County have been down 70 percent.

“It doesn’t mean that the abuse has dropped by seventy percent, obviously, it just means that people who usually make the calls are not.”

This includes reports from teachers, as students have not been in classrooms since mid-March.

“We don’t know, I really couldn’t tell you right now what our kids are experiencing. So that’s definitely a huge motivation for reopening.”

As such, Castellani says the clubs’ main focus will be welcoming kids back, giving them chances to talk about what it’s been like to be away, and ensuring their hand washing skills are up to par. The latter is built into the new schedules at both clubs.

“Each group will have designated times to take their little groups and wash hands.”

With Club programs being evidence-based, Castellani aims to reinforce focus on social-emotional needs along the way.

“It just is geared to making them feel a lot of [positivity], like in team-building, community-building activities, and I think we’re looking at a lot more health and nutrition programs too, things that seem really basic and obvious to you and me but we really might be starting from square one with some of our kids.”

As they reintegrate, Castellani says, kids still need to look out for their own family, especially if they live with grandparents.

“I’m hopeful that more and more people will start to return safely, I mean not taking silly risks.”

As a result, continuing distance services appears to be the new normal for the Clubs; Curbside meals and home activity kits are expected to continue being offered weekdays 4-6 p.m.

Nonetheless, Castellani hopes that kids can look beyond the pandemic and see brighter days ahead.

“I think our main message still sticks with my mission; We are there to serve the kids who need us most, and we do it by giving them a safe environment, and of course that’s a physically-safe building with staff members who really care and wanna be here.”

She also praised parents for adapting to the ‘new normal’ of working from home and home-schooling their kids. She noted how difficult the current math standard is for parents.

The end goal remains getting kids to academic, career and emotional successes, she said, just not without having as much fun as possible along the way.

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