St. Francis Center Goes Digital to Reach At-risk Kids in 21217 Postal Code

St. Francis Neighborhood Center in nearby Reservoir Hill had plans for finishing out the current school year with after-school enrichment youth development programs for 75 children (ages 5 – 19, including 12 high schoolers) and support for their low-income families, while planning their annual summer camp.  Then COVID-19 closed all schools in March and sent everyone into stay-at-home seclusion.

In just a few days the center began providing their tutoring and mentoring, computer lab, STEM, personal finance and other classes and programs online.  Because many of the families had no access to the Internet and did not own computers, SFNC staff went into high gear – distributing more than 60 laptops from their computer lab and helping parents negotiate with Comcast for free or reduced cost connectivity.

Now, as the fractured public school year ends, St. Francis is ready to open its virtual summer camp in June with morning school subject-tutoring using iReady and Google Classroom, followed by afternoon virtual field trips, movies and other activities chosen by the participating children.

“We’re excited about how things are working out so far,” said Christi Green, executive director of SFNC.  “The deal we made with the students was that if they took our computer they had to agree to log-in every day – and about 60 percent have done so, with the rest logging in often.”  That compares to about 13 percent daily sign-ons in the city schools since the shutdown started, she said.  Each SFNC staff member was assigned a cohort of student families to explain the program and survey family needs.

St. Francis is the city’s oldest youth enrichment center, operating since 1963.  It partners with Corpus Christi Church and a wide range of schools in Bolton Hill and elsewhere, and with community organizations, to support aspiring children in the 21217 ZIP Code.

Space limitations in the center’s offices at 2405 Linden Avenue have held enrollment down to a maximum of 75 young people, with a long waiting list.  In its new digital life Green hopes to serve more families.  A years-long capital campaign to finance a new headquarters in the neighborhood is at 78 percent completion, and a groundbreaking is set for late June.

But there are lots of needs – for financial support, volunteers, and donations.  Here are specific ways new volunteers can make a difference.

“We need online tutors to work with our students.  We need someone to teach basic Spanish classes online.  We need volunteers who can make masks for our kids and their families.  We have an Amazon Wish List with items the center can use.  We do an online job fair and need input from employers and other professionals.  And we need volunteers to help provide, assemble, and deliver kits for kids – themed materials that support our online classroom instruction in subjects like art, fitness, STEM, etc.,” said Green.  To learn how to help click here or contact Green at cgreen@stfranciscenter.org.

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