UNITED 21CCLC: Program Innovations In A Pandemic

Young woman working on a garden.

UNITED 21CCLC was gearing up for their inaugural summer — making plans for a mobile express trailer packed with high-tech science activities, in-person theater experiences for youth, identity building groups and much more. 

“And then COVID-19 happened,” Amy Trombley, director of education partnerships for United Way of Central Minnesota, simply stated. 

Initially, everything shut down.  

The gears swiftly starting rolling again, and many community partners “jumped to the challenge,” explained Clarinda Solberg, 21CCLC grant administrator. 

Boys & Girls Clubs quickly offered child care. Too Much Talent secured a bus to bring dance right into neighborhoods. YES Network ramped up their meal delivery capabilities and created online content with a decidedly youth flair — dab-inspired stretching, “bouncy beats” to the tune of “Uptown Funk,” crayon and water color art, directions on how to make a spinning top — and that was just week one! 

Youth job experiences with CareerOne have relocated from indoor offices to outdoor landscaping, with the focus on resume building and workplace skill development still intact. Promise Neighborhood summer tutoring programs are still aligned with school curriculum, but have moved from the library to online or over the phone. Young people in herARTS in Action hang their completed works in their windows, a poignant visual reminder that this is a shared experience.  

These virtual programs are delivered via school-issued technology devices, adding an extra layer of complexity as community-based programs need to align with school district policies.  

But with those challenges have come new insights. 

The identity-building group GOATS (Girls On Arise To Succeed) is meeting online using their school-issued technology devices. Per district policy, that means two adults must be in a virtual room at all times, so a school staff person is participating in the groups for the first time ever. This has led to a deeper appreciation of the positive impact GOATS is having on young girls of color. “It’s been powerful for school district employees to be witness to the true passions and experiences of the girls,” noted Clarinda. “They’re saying ‘we need more of this in our schools.’”  

Both women say the pandemic has aligned their community in new ways and brought the importance of this work to the forefront. “We’re dismantling structures that have created barriers, and that’s the most beautiful thing,” Clarinda observed. 

Amy and Clarinda also stress that partnerships are the backbone of these efforts. “This is the work of our community,” avowed Amy. “We’re fortunate to have so many amazing partners doing what is best for our kids and our community. I’m reminded of the African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. We are going farther, together.”