In March 2020, as the world abruptly ground to a global shutdown, those of us with the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance had the same thoughts and questions as many:
“Is this really happening? We need to stay safe and healthy. We need to stay home. What does this mean? How will we work and earn money? How will we pay our bills? How will we eat? And what about the children? How will they learn and continue to grow and thrive? Our schools are closed, our childcare centers are closed. What do we do now?”
The YMCA centers — like everything else — may have been closed, but we were still there for our communities to support families and individuals through these scary times.
In March 2020, the YMCAs in New Jersey quickly responded to the needs in their communities by providing immediate emergency childcare, food distribution and collection, support to individuals with mental health issues and help for isolated seniors. We were communicating daily with our partners at the state Department of Health, the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Human Services to help develop guidelines and policies to provide safe service to our communities.
By May 2020, 13 YMCAs reopened childcare centers to support families of essential workers. Our centers quickly responded to the COVID guidelines to be able to provide care for children in safe environments. We worked with many funding partners to get personal protective equipment and supplies, redesign classrooms to ensure social distancing, and train staff to understand the federally mandated COVID-19 guidelines and procedures. Our most important task was to provide care and nurture for the children of our state.
One grandparent from the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA states,
“Thank you for all that you have done for the kids and parents. It has been a difficult year and the YMCA has been a light in the darkness.”
Another parent shared,
“The Y provided some normalcy in a chaotic world. The staff not only supported the childcare needs of our family, but also provided reassurance and support for me. They helped quell my anxiety and stress. They were not just a provider but a friend and ally.”
The Y staff helped answer questions about subsidy payments, provided guidance on topics like food distribution, and information on COVID prevention.
The Y continued to provide services after school ended that year. In the summer of 2020, it was critically important for children to get back outside, be active and have opportunities to play and just be kids. Once again, the New Jersey YMCAs worked with the DOH and the DCF to open camps under the strict COVID guidelines. Children benefited from the safe environments, being outside and able to socialize, and were provided with two meals each day. The Ys did everything possible to provide these children with a great summer.
When schools started back up in the fall, the Ys continued to support youth and families by repurposing our facilities and creating classrooms in our existing group exercise studios and gymnasiums. Y staff welcomed students and supported their remote learning, allowing parents to return to work. The best part was that the Ys provided the space for children to thrive and play once again, even during such challenging times. Children were active and socializing with friends, under the supervision of nurturing caregivers.
Tutoring Programs As we learned and understood more about the learning loss children experienced from the education disruption, the YMCAs provided tutoring programs during the summer of 2021 and the school year of 2021-2022. The Y partnered with The College of New Jersey Tutoring Corps to provide a structured math and literacy instructional program. This program was integrated into our camp day and then during our after-school programs.
The evaluation of the Summer 2021 Tutoring Corps pilot program was intended to provide formative feedback about the strengths and challenges of implementation, as well as summative outcome data to inform future replication and expansion of the program. TCNJ’s Tutoring Corps summer 2021 pilot program focused on mathematics, aiming to improve students’ confidence in and attitudes toward learning math as well as build their self-esteem and growth mindset. The program was delivered in person for seven weeks. Trained tutors worked with groups of three to five students during one-hour sessions, three times per week, with the same tutor working with the same scholars throughout the summer.
Approximately 2,000 scholars received hands-on tutoring in mathematics and increased their math skills. Students indicated they enjoyed the program, their number skills improved, and they were excited to return to the program. Records show that 99% of the students reported they understand math better and 94% stated they were more confident in learning and asking for help. In January 2022, five YMCAs provide the tutoring program as part of their afterschool programs. Although the full reports are not complete at this time, the chart below shows the preliminary pre/post scores.