By Donna Cope
The COVID-19 hiatus isn’t keeping Girls Inc. from helping underserved girls, who have received food for their body and mind.
Several youngsters and teen girls at Marks Village Apartments in Birmingham’s Gate City neighborhood took home a large box of food, courtesy of the Girls Inc. food pantry.
The sight of boxes filled with fresh vegetables lit young faces with happy smiles. But providing those gifts isn’t the only way Girls Inc. continues to carry out its mission to “inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.” Girls Inc. facilitators have been creating and providing girls and their parents with online classes and programs since the nonprofit’s after-school locations closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had to stop our day-to-day program, so we moved our programs online,” said Girls Inc. President and CEO Connie Hill. “We have a YouTube channel we are using to keep girls engaged during the coronavirus break. We’re trying to stay in touch with the girls we serve.”
Usually, the after-school program serves 110 girls at the Crestwood Center each afternoon.
Creating a ‘virtual academy’ for girls
Using the Zoom app, Girls Inc. staff continues to hold STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes, sports and fitness, and art and literacy tutorials. For girls without Zoom access, Girls Inc. facilitators are creating videos featuring different activities. During the school year, these facilitators work in schools and in after-school programs.
It’s a whole different ballgame than providing services in person, Hill said.
“Girls can follow along on their cellphones to see YouTube videos, even if they can’t take part in classes,” Hill said. “We’re trying to provide as many online resources as possible for the girls and their parents during the pandemic.
“Right now, we don’t know when we’ll reopen,” she said. “We’re providing different activities for every age group to do at home, on different days. I think we closed at exactly the right time, because none of our students or the schools where they were coming from had reported a case of COVID-19.”
Girls Inc. is educating families about obtaining free internet access for their children through Spectrum.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” said Hill, whose staff is taking on new duties. The volunteer coordinator is editing videos for the first time. Program facilitators are teaching from their living rooms.
Still, Girls Inc. facilitators are continuing with plans for summer camps.
“We have 200 girls in our Crestwood Camp, 60 girls in our Walker County Camp and we have a multiyear STEM camp where girls start as rising eighth graders,” Hill said. “We have a lot going on in the summer.”
The nonprofit faced another “bump in the road” when they had to cancel their annual fundraiser, the Cajun Cook-off, on April 4. They are continuing to raise funds through an online giving campaign.
Hill said it was hard to close their in-person programs, even temporarily.
“We’ll continue to adapt to the needs of girls when the coronavirus crisis is over – just as we have for decades,” Hill said. “We’re working hard to make sure their physical, academic and emotional needs are met. More importantly, we will be there when this is over. We know that girls will need even more support this summer. Our philosophy is to start early and stay late in a girl’s life. This crisis will make this even more important.”
Visit girlsinccentral-al.org to register for summer programs.