ABOVE PHOTO: The members of the Caring People’s Alliance / West Philadelphia Boys and Girls club and CPA director of Community Outreach Branon Gilmore (far left). (Photo courtesy Jim Brown)
By Jim Brown
For some non-profit businesses, the global pandemic has brought some great misfortune. However, the Caring People’s Alliance and its Boys and Girls club in Mantua, located at 3514 Haverford Avenue, overcame many obstacles and were able to continue to provide an invaluable service when it comes down to the business of educating our youngest scholars.
Last week, Director Branon Gilmore, (recently promoted to Director of Community Outreach) spoke with the SUN about what it took for his West Philadelphia center to stay open and provide educational support to Pre-K students, as well as afterschool services for the parents in the community who have been involved with their organization for several years.
SUN: When the pandemic hit around March 13, 2020, how did the organization prepare when the School District of Philadelphia shut down schools and the mayor shut down the city? Did you have to reduce staff or close down the center?” What did it feel like for you as the director of the Boys and Girls Club?
BG: Before the pandemic, we were meeting the needs of the students and the parents who have been with us to mentor, engage and educate throughout the school year. We had enough staff hired to fulfill all of our mandated ratios with our license.
When the pandemic hit, the organization itself had to do a full 180 in our thought process in how we were still [going to] provide services to our families and to the people in the community. So, we had to re-engineer our brains and take on this new reality of virtual learning. So, we really had to ramp our IT infrastructure, make sure that people could have remote access to families.
And also, to the resources that we had at the agency. We did that well — mainly through our partnership with the School District. The School District supplied laptops for kids that we had a contract with in the preschool program. And the OST (Out of School Time) Program after our school time, provided funding so that we could have laptops for our school-aged kids. We provided services to families virtually or what we would call through our community openings.
SUN: What was your capacity for children before the pandemic? And what was your program’s capacity for children during that 18-month period of time during the pandemic? And has it declined?
BG: We went from 100 students down to 30 students. It did affect staff in such [a way] that, without having the amount of kids, one would think that you wouldn’t need the same amount of staff that you had before. So, we got creative. Because when the pandemic happened, we were still in the school year. And as we were coming back, everything moved indoors. So, all temporary staff members were leaving.
The staff members that were remaining, we had them cross-train to different positions. Some of our preschool teachers became school-aged counselors.
This past school year (2020-2021), we [also] turned our centers to virtual learning “access centers.” So, if you’re a parent and you have to work, and no one’s at home with your child, you can send your child to our center; we have people here who worked a full day.
Kids, staff and even the teachers in the schools that they were in made it so that we were able to keep our doors open by allowing families to come out and enjoy our service. Obviously, it’s not a free service — but they could pay and they felt safe that someone was watching their child during the day and their child could be in school so that the parent could go to work.
SUN: Which after school and extracurricular activities will be returning in September?
BG: We opened up for summer camp. We are currently recruiting and we have open enrollment for our preschool programs; they will be up and running by September. We were successful with people who have already submitted applications and they will be starting school August 30 for preschool.
Not only do we do pre-school, [but]the pre-school program is [also] a feeder program. And that’s Pre-K Counts, Head Start and Universal Pre-K, which is the Philly Pre-K called PHL Pre-K, so, we run those three programs. For the school-aged [student], we have an afterschool program. But if a parent decides that they are going to do the virtual option of school, we will make sure that they are attending their classes via laptop with our staff support.
SUN: What are some of the protocols that you had in place that will continue to ensure students and their parents feel comfortable to stay at your center?
BG: Internally, what we did as an agency; we put in a mask mandate, as a lot of places have [for]kids above the age of 2 years old and staff. We did temperature checks in the morning. We had the standard protocol questionnaire that a lot of buildings have.
We’ve added new technology that parents would have to sign their kids out by scanning or a QR code with their cell phone and they could sign their kid in and out electronically. Social distancing in the classroom was instituted for our kids and during transitioning from the classroom, bathroom, lunch and through the building.”
SUN: Are you relocating your school in September? What part of the city will you relocate your services to?
BG: We are committed to providing services for this school year for 2021-22. We will start school in August and go up to June of 2022. We just purchased a new building on 59th & Catherine Street in West Philadelphia. It’s the old Sharon Baptist Church site. We are currently renovating the site because we are making more classrooms for our Pre-K classes. And we plan on moving in at that site on July 1, 2022. We will have a soft opening and summer camp in June of 2022. We’ll have open houses for the new neighborhood parents to visit our new building.
We will [also] extend our services to our current parents and children. We will let our parents know that we want them to stay with us and continue our valued relationship. The new location address [will be]5845 Catherine Street, Philadelphia, Pa. 19143. Our current phone number is (215) 386-4075.
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