'Whatever it takes': Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield creates Club Hub to help families

RIDGEFIELD — With the pandemic still raging and families prepared to deal with the continuous transitions between in-person, hybrid, and full-distance learning, the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield teamed up with the schools to create a new offering.

Club Hub gives students a place to complete their virtual learning during the school day under the supervision of the Boys & Girls Club’s youth development professionals and support staff. The club leadership decided to launch it after seeing a need to support families through the changing learning models.

“I think that the working family that doesn’t have the option to work at home or make other arrangements — that’s the population we’re helping right now,” said Michael Flynn, the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield’s chief executive officer.

The club had a successful summer camp program and so staff took a similar approach to its after-school program.

In partnership with the Ridgefield Public School District, the Boys & Girls Club staff quickly developed the new Club Hub program, which aligned with the schools’ COVID-19 Reopening Plan.

The after-school program was also adjusted to meet the club’s own COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness Plan. This plan was developed to meet the safety policies, procedures, regulations, and recommendations of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, Boys & Girls Club of America and the Ridgefield Department of Health.

“While different, the club members and staff members were equally excited to be back in action after school. So much, that people who were walking by would stop to admire — from afar — the laughter they were hearing, as club members once again rushed off the bus and ran through the club’s doors,” said Kristin Goncalves, the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield’s associate executive director.

Superintendent Susie Da Silva said the Boys & Girls Club reached out to her not long after she started in April, offering a warm welcome and a chance to collaborate.

“They offered supervision and programming during the remote and hybrid learning experience, providing a much needed support for families and for our youth,” Da Silva said. “Ridgefield Public Schools is fortunate to have such a positive and meaningful partnership with the Boys & Girls Club. Their positive support for families and students cannot be overstated more this year. The Boys & Girls Club is a gem for this community.”

Flynn said the club has always viewed itself as an extension of the school, as well as an essential resource to the district and community as a whole.

“All of us at the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield take great pride in our long-standing relationship with the Ridgefield Public School System,” he said.

He added the club is well versed in adapting to the evolving policies and procedures and is constantly communicating with experts in local and national health and childcare communities.

More than 200 children have enrolled in the Club Hub since the school year began, with some children leaving but that figure remaining steady, Flynn said.

It costs $35 a day, but scholarships are provided to about 20 percent of those enrolled.

The club can handle up to 50 kids a day within the two cohorts.

Staff members didn’t have expectations for how many students would enroll in the new program, since they had only had the summer program before that. The numbers have emphasized a need in the community though, especially for families with essential workers who need to report to work.

Flynn said it’s been a mix of single parents or two working parents participating.

“We’ve helped a lot families where there’s teachers that are reporting to school to teach, healthcare workers, and some that are really just your hourly employees whether they work at a local store or banks or what have you but they’ve got to report everyday to work,” Flynn said.

It’s also been a combination of helping those the club already worked with, as well as those whose situations changed and now need a place for their children.

“This year has, no doubt, been challenging for all of us, but the pandemic has heightened the critical situations for families who were already struggling,” he said. “Those in the greatest need were hit the hardest and left overwhelmed by job loss, hunger, and the impact of kids missing months of school. Throughout this crisis, we have stayed true to our mission of helping those that need us the most and we remain committed to doing ‘Whatever It Takes’ for our club kids, our club families, and our club community.”

The Boys & Girls Club remains flexible as the schools’ learning model fluctuates weekly and is ready to implement the Club Hub program as needed.

“During the pandemic, their services and the relationships they foster have become even more critical for the overall well-being of many of our students and families,” said Margaret Stamatis, a school board member. “The pandemic hasn’t changed the core of what the Boys & Girls Club is and the heart of what it provides. The Club has stayed committed to serving our community and has adapted to meet the current needs of our students and families even when circumstances fluctuate daily.”

For more information on the Boys & Girls Club’s programming or to make a donation, please contact Mike Flynn, Chief Executive Officer, at 203-438-8821 ext. 15 or at mflynn@bgcridgefield.org.

gmarku@darientimes.com